The head of Ventura County's largest animal-protection agency Friday hailed a new federal law banning the sale of animal cruelty videos, calling it a major victory for animal rights.
President Clinton has signed into law a measure making it a crime to profit from the interstate sale of so-called "crush videos" that typically depict women--often in spike heels--crushing small animals to death.
"I think any time the laws become stronger and more enforceable, it's certainly a victory for those who can't speak for themselves," said Joyce George, president of the Humane Society of Ventura County.
The legislation, triggered by a Ventura County case and sponsored by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), establishes a penalty of up to five years in prison for anyone profiting from the interstate sale of depictions of animal cruelty.
"The speed with which this bill sailed through Congress says a lot about the recognition that cruelty to animals is a deep societal issue," Gallegly said after Clinton signed the bill Thursday night.
"Most experts now recognize that those who kill or torture animals often will progress to harming and even killing fellow human beings," Gallegly added. "This is one step toward ending this cycle of violence."
Gallegly introduced the bill after the Ventura County district attorney ran into problems last year using existing state animal-cruelty laws to prosecute a Thousand Oaks man who was allegedly selling crush videos over the Internet. It was difficult to determine when the act took place--essential to proving it occurred within the statute of limitations--and who was involved, since only feet were visible on the video.
George's office played an integral role in the investigation of suspected crush video producer Gary Lynn Thomason. Thomason, 48, who now lives in Anaheim, has been charged with three counts of animal cruelty stemming from a similar case in Los Angeles County.
"I couldn't believe it when I first saw this [on video]," George said. "This is about as sick as it gets."
Clinton said the legislation should assist in reducing or eliminating some of the "deplorable and indefensible" acts of animal cruelty described during congressional hearings.
During those hearings, graphic photographs and several minutes of video footage were shown. Some spectators left the room rather than watch the gruesome images. Crush videos generally feature a woman's feet, often in heels, slowly crushing to death a small animal such as a mouse, guinea pig or kitten.
Humane Society investigators uncovered more than 2,000 crush video titles available for purchase over the Internet, which can sell for up to $300 each.
"With this law, we draw a line in the sand and declare that such acts of animal cruelty, and the commercial sale of videos depicting this horrific practice, are outside the bounds of acceptable behavior in our society," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.
Gallegly's bill cleared the House by a 372-42 vote, with critics warning it could violate the 1st Amendment right of freedom of expression, perhaps prohibiting films on bullfighting. Gallegly amended the bill to exempt depictions if they have "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value."
Senate approval of the bill was unanimous.
The measure was supported by animal rights activists, including Mickey Rooney, Loretta Swit and the leaders of Doris Day Animal League.
Times Community News reporter Holly J. Wolcott contributed to this story.