How Ponce's law will help protect Florida pets

Gov. Scott signed animal-cruelty bill into law Thursday

Poinsetta, a dog abandoned two days before Christmas, is looked after at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home on Dec. 27, 2012, in London.

This week, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that will help prevent animal-abuse offenders from owning pets.

Ponce’s Law is named after Ponce, a Labrador retriever puppy found beaten to death in Ponce Inlet last year. The puppy’s owner, Travis Archer, is awaiting trial on felony animal cruelty charges.

More than 80,000 people signed a petition in support of amending the animal cruelty law introduced by state Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) to allow judges to ban offenders from owning pets and impose harsher punishments.

The group, Justice for Ponce, originally sought to increase the crime to a second-degree felony, but that didn’t happen.

What the animal-cruelty law does do is allow judges to bar offenders from owning a pet for a court-ordered period of time.

The law also increases the chances of offenders receiving a sentencing that includes jail time. Ponce’s Law increased the severity ranking of an animal abuse-related crime. For example; before Ponce’s Law, an offender would have scored a Level 3 offense, which carries 16 points. After the law that same offense is a Level 5, with 28 points, meaning if a person is convicted on an animal cruelty charge they are more likely to do jail time.

Scott signed the bill into law at Ponce Inlet, where a statue now stands in Ponce’s memory, on Thursday.

"People, if they're doing this, there's a greater chance they're going to go to prison,” Scott said during the ceremonial signing. “The judge is going to be able to say ‘You cannot have another pet.’"

Another Central Florida community in Marion County took things into their own hands to track animal abusers. 

In January 2016, the county enacted an ordinance known as Molly’s Law, named for Molly, an American boxer mix who was severally abused in 2014. Molly’s Law requires residents convicted of animal abuse crimes to be added to a register of offenders. People on that list are not allowed to own or live with animals for as long as they are on the list. Any person who violates Molly’s Law can be fined by the county up to $500.