cute little white fluffy dog in a white onesie, with a yellow tennis ball by her mouth, sitting on a fluffy rug.
File photo of Chloe, cleaned up and healthy after suffering abuse. Small, fluffy white terrier-poodle in onesie. Photo courtesy of Fix Long Beach

Every animal in every home, forest, body of water, desert, mountain range and any U.S. geographical area I’ve left out is finally entitled to his or her day in court—U.S. District Court, in fact. On Nov. 21, President Donald Trump signed House Bill 724, titled Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT), into law.

According to the bill’s text, it’s now a federal crime to engage in “actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury…including conduct that, if committed against a person and in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, would violate [federal codes relating to prohibition of sexual abuse].”

“With President Trump signing the PACT Act, animal cruelty is no longer just unacceptable, it is now illegal,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, wrote in a press release. “We can now finally say that animal abuse is a federal crime in the United States.”

The PACT Act, which passed handily in both the House and Senate, actually was conceived because of a conspicuously absent detail in an earlier law. The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, passed in 2010, made it illegal to create or distribute videos that depicted animal death by crushing, drowning and other forms of torture. There was, however, no prohibition of committing the acts themselves, which seems ridiculous in context.

A revision of the law consisted of a heading change from “depiction of animal cruelty” to “animal crushing”; the definition of “animal crushing” would remain the same, as detailed in this article’s first paragraph. Why “crushing” wasn’t changed to “cruelty” is a point of consideration, but the acts are defined anyway, and filth by any other name would smell as foul.

PACT won’t interfere with state animal-cruelty laws but could allow a state prosecutor to try a case at the federal level. Animal cruelty in California is classified either as a misdemeanor or a wobbler, that is, either a misdemeanor or a felony at the prosecutor’s discretion (access the Animal Defense Legal Fund’s online information sheet for details of each California state law). In California, sexual conduct with animals and even sexual assault are considered misdemeanors, and maliciously hurting or killing one is a wobbler. The PACT Act now offers the chance for an animal to get justice for any hateful act done to him or her, and the perpetrator will be punished, it’s hoped, more severely for it.

PACT has the same exceptions that existed in the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, including euthanasia and necessary veterinary practice. Some might understandably argue that the law doesn’t go far enough because hunting when and where permitted and scientific research are also exempt.

You might want to hold off on jumping for joy until we all see how the law plays out. Let’s say that it’s cause for optimism but not for letting one’s guard down.

“No matter what, it’s a start,” said one local advocate who asked to not be named. “But unfortunately, we’re still going to have to speak up and make sure our local levels do their job.”

The debate regarding the PACT Act was no debate at all—the bill passed with no objection. Listen to Rep. Deutch thanking his supporters, including a high school student who, upon learning of the PACT Act, started a petition to gain support for its passing. A few of the speakers’ comments centered on the link between abuse of animals and of humans, and others may make you cover your ears and go “Lalalalala.” You’ll definitely want to stay tuned in for Rep. Deutch’s final dedication.