In memory of Ponce, it’s now the law of the land

It took a village (aptly named Justice for Ponce), spearheaded by outraged Port Orange citizen Debbie Darino and backed by thousands of others statewide as well as nationwide and internationally, but Ponce’s Law is now on the Florida books as a much bigger deterrent to animal abusers.

Everyone has heard the story by now of a helpless Labrador retriever puppy named Ponce who was beaten to death last year for messing up his Ponce Inlet owner’s house. That brutal act brought animal cruelty into the forefront and although numerous legislative hurdles had to be overcome, Ponce’s Law is in effect as of Oct. 1.

The law allows judges to bar offenders from owning a pet for a court-ordered period of time, up to life. 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.

Supporters of the law gathered outside the James Foxman Justice Center Oct. 1 to celebrate its enactment.

State Rep. Tom Leek, who sponsored the bill, addressed the crowd. “You all made this happen. This is precisely how your government should work. Today is a beautiful day,” State. Rep. Leek said.

State Rep. Paul Renner, who co-sponsored the bill, said “This story is a lesson about what we can do when we all come together. Only about one bill in 10 (submitted each year) actually gets to the finish line. Everybody in the community made this happen, to turn tragedy into what is today not a law just in our community, but a law in the State of Florida. I know Ponce would be proud.”

Ms. Darino noted Oct. 1 also was National Black Dog Day.

When she first heard the news about Ponce’s death, she cried like everybody else, and then she got mad.

“I got tired of seeing these abusers kill animals in such horrific ways and decided to do something about it,” Ms. Darino said.

The online petition she created had over 3,000 signatures in one hour. Out of 3,250 bills in the 2018 session, only 195 passed and Ponce’s Law was one of them.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood, one of the many rally speakers, said, “You hear about government inaction all the time; this was government in action. From a law enforcement perspective, if history has taught us anything, if you abuse animals and kill animals, you are just as likely to be a serial domestic abuser or a serial killer.

“All of us have the responsibility to protect those in society that cannot protect themselves,” the sheriff said. “We are sending a message that’s clear. If you dare damage, maim or kill an animal, we’re coming to get you.”

Frank Fabrizio, police chief of Ponce Inlet, where it all began, supported the Justice for Ponce members and the bill from the beginning.

“Today is a great day, a day of celebration. Good triumphed over evil,” Chief Fabrizio said. “I have never been prouder while I was witnessing all the dedication of the citizens of Volusia County and throughout the state, taking up a cause and demanding change and demanding justice.”

Originally posted on Hometown News by Diane M. Carey.