KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Tennessee is one of the worst states when it comes to taking a bite out of animal cruelty. The Humane Society says the Volunteer State faced more large-scale animal emergencies than any other in the past three years. The dubious recognition is sparking debate over tougher penalties for animal abusers.
"We have to be careful and not having a knee-jerk reaction," said Xan Rawls of Young-Williams animal shelter.
The report says nearly half of Tennessee's 95 counties lack proper shelters. Protection rules vary widely by county, and animal cruelty remains a misdemeanor. "From our point of view, we want to provide and care for the animals," said Rawls.
The increase in abuse cases could be a result of greater public awareness. "We're very happy to see that because obviously it's going to protect the animals," Rawls said.
Efforts to enact new laws and boost animal cruelty to a felony have stalled in the legislature. State Rep. Frank Niceley, head of the Agriculture Committee, says current laws are enough.