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February 3, 2010

Barbie Inspires a Call for Better Laws for Animals

A dog's ordeal brings a push for change in Idaho

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Barbie gets a kiss from The HSUS' Lisa Kauffman, HART's Julia Townsend, and Gina Schafer of Northwest Animal Companions. Scott Townsend

Barbie the dog is lying beside the fireplace inside her new foster home. The flickering flames bring out the golden highlights of her chocolate brown coat, and she lets out a satisfied yawn as she arches her back and stretches out her legs. 

"We're so happy to have Barbie here with us," says Barbie's new foster mom. "Once she recovers from her surgery, she'll be on her way to her new adoptive home."

Just a few short weeks ago, Barbie's neighbors thought a happy life was all but impossible for the dog. Having been struck by a car, she was lying in the snow with two broken legs. Beside her huddled five newborn puppies, trying to keep warm in freezing temperatures.

Concerned neighbors made phone calls, prompting a series of events in which it appeared that, after Barbie's removal for treatment, the people who took her to the vet could face criminal charges, and Barbie's owner would regain custody of her and the puppies.

The power of public opinion

The preponderance of public opinion was that Barbie should not be returned, and public officials began to feel the heat. Protestors gathered outside the Jefferson County courthouse. Local media converged. Discussions about recalling the Jefferson County Sheriff ensued. In no time, Barbie's plight became familiar to almost everyone in the county, and many beyond.

It wasn't long before prosecutors agreed to drop the criminal charges against the people who took Barbie off that property. But what was to become of Barbie and her pups? No one wanted to see them go back where they might lead cold, lonely lives.

In mid-January, Barbie's owner finally agreed to give up Barbie and her puppies—in exchange for money. But to the people who fought so hard for Barbie and her puppies, it seemed a small price to pay.

"The peace of mind in knowing that these dogs are now safe is priceless," says The HSUS' Adam Parascandola. "After going through so much, everyone was willing to pretty much do anything to ensure Barbie's safety."

Soon, all of Barbie's puppies were romping around their new adoptive homes, their bitter beginnings seemingly forgotten. As for Barbie, she recently completed the last leg of her journey to her new foster home in Montana, where she awaits surgery for her broken legs and, eventually, adoption into a loving home.

Rallying around Barbie

The ordeal for Barbie and her puppies may be over, but their story has become a rallying point for Idahoans who want stronger animal cruelty laws.

On January 22, NPR listeners in Boise heard The HSUS' Lisa Kauffman and local humane society representative Andi Elliot discussed Barbie's case and the need to strengthen Idaho's animal cruelty law.

Idaho Senator Tim Corder (D-22) agrees that his state's law needs improvement. His proposed legislation would double the penalties for animal abusers to one year in prison and a fine of $800 to $9,000. Hopes are that the passage of Sen. Corder's bill this year will set the stage for passing a felony animal cruelty law in upcoming legislative sessions.

What you can do

If you live in Idaho, contact your state legislators and ask them to pass legislation to make animal cruelty a felony.

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