Are animal cruelty charges harsh enough?

Are animal cruelty charges harsh enough? »Play Video

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Most people would say animal cruelty is a brutal crime that should get you locked away if you're caught. However, KIMA learned a many of these cases never lead to a jail cell.

For most, they're part of the family. Adopted children with four legs instead of two. And while more than limbs separate the babies from pets, both require love and attention.

It's something Daniel Newbrough says comes easy. And why Daniel can't understand a case like the hoarding raid last April. Nearly 50 dogs were rescued from a Yakima home. Dozens were put down because of starvation and appalling living conditions. Evelyn Dauenhauer was charged with 9 counts of owning a pitbull and 10 counts of animal cruelty.

Whether Evelyn Dauenhauer winds up in jail lies in the hands of a jury. It's one of Yakima's only recent animal cruelty cases to even make it that far. Many point to lack of time, money and of course, how severe those charges are.

Since July, only five animal abuse cases were filed in Yakima. The city prosecutor tells us owners almost always use a lack of money as an excuse for the neglect.

Animal cruelty is considered a gross misdemeanor. Typically, the maximum sentence is one year in jail or a large fine. In Yakima, we're told charges range from community service to jail time. However, jail time is rare. Daniel thinks that should change.

"It's not going to be treated the same way as a grown man hurting a child," said Daniel. "I understand that. But, the simple matter of fact is they are living breathing beings."

Animal rights groups in Washington proposed several bills for the 2013 legislative session. One would give animal control officers the ability to issue infractions. Another would ban keeping animals in cars. The Central Washington Humane Society tells us it's a step in the right direction.

Yakima police arrested 12 people for animal cruelty last year.

Evelyn Dauenhaur's trial is scheduled to start a week from today. KIMA will be there to cover it.