Editor's note: There are dozens of newspapers across the state of Kentucky. Each Tuesday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing their communities and this state.

For the state with the worst animal protection laws in the country for 12 years running, according to annual reports published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a particularly gruesome animal cruelty case in Floyd County stresses the need for stiffer legislation.

Jonathan D. Watkins, 38, of David, reportedly killed and skinned four of his neighbors' dogs because he wanted a "doggy coat." Kentucky State Police have charged him with four counts of torture of a dog with serious physical injury or death, a Class A misdemeanor, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence, a Class D felony.

In a citation issued by Kentucky State Police, a neighbor said Watkins was "covered in blood" when he came over to ask for a cigarette on Dec. 23. When questioned about his activities, Watkins admitted he had "been skinning dogs." Later, the neighbor observed what appeared to be four animal skins on Watkins' porch and two skinned dog carcasses hanging over the porch banister.

While this gory case may be extreme -- much like the local case last year in which a Frankfort man is accused of killing 24-year-old Coty Brumback and his dog, Baloo -- it spotlights the pressing need for tougher state animal cruelty laws and penalties.

Currently, Kentucky lacks numerous protections such as requiring veterinarians to report suspected abuse. Felony animal fighting and cruelty statutes only cover a limited number of species, and there are no provisions for restitution or forfeiture post-conviction except in cases involving horses.

Legislators have pre-filed 11 animal-related bills for the session, which (started) on Tuesday (Jan. 7), but none include increasing penalties for animal cruelty. Those 11 bills will also need to compete with the hundreds of other pre-filed bills on other hot button topics such as sports wagering, taxes, vaping restrictions, charter schools and medical marijuana. Additionally, lawmakers will also be wrestling with budgetary and education issues.

While their plates may be full, we believe elected leaders need to hear the words of Mahatma Ghandi who said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

-- State-Journal, Frankfort

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