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When we think animal cruelty, we usually think of the big issues: things like factory farming, animals being forced to perform for shows and attractions, and poaching. When we view the issue of animal cruelty in this type of broadened lens, the problem becomes a massive, looming dark cloud that we, as individuals, feel helpless against. Will anything we ever do make a difference? Where do we even begin? While it is important to pay attention to these types of problems and threats, a more effective way to spark change is to start small. We can each start by looking around us, our neighborhoods, and our general everyday lives for places to instill change and make a difference. Students at O’Leary Middle School in Twin Falls, Idaho did just that.  They made an impact they never imagined, and it all started from a simple school project.

Every year, Twin Falls middle and elementary school students participate in the FIRST Lego League competition, where teams of students research a real world problem and work to come up with a possible solution. This year, the theme of the competition was “helping our animal allies.” Working with this idea, the robotics team decided to take a closer look at their local animal cruelty laws.

A member of the team, Eric Price, began research and interview a local vet, animal control officer, and city councilman. He and his peers were surprised to find that there were approximately 3,000 calls to animal control annually and that the number of animal cruelty cases had doubled from the previous year. They were also shocked that animal cruelty, no matter how severe or the number of past offenses, was punished by a mere $100 dollar fine.

The team immediately took action. When they learned that the majority of Twin Falls cruelty cases involved starving animals or pets being locked inside cars, they brainstormed simple ways to prevent these occurrences. The students made stickers reminding drivers not to leave pets unattended in cars and held a pet food drive for the Magic Valley Humane Society. Most importantly, they began to rally others and petition to change their local laws.

They appeared in front of the City Council, urging officials to take animal cruelty more seriously, and adopt harsher legislation via the Ketchum Law. The Ketchum Law states that first time animal cruelty offenses are punishable by a fine of $100 to $5,000 and up to six months in jail. Sentencing increases according to number of offenses: a second offense is punishable by a fine of $200 to $7,000 and up to nine months in jail, and a third offense by a fine of $500 to $9,000 and up to a year in jail. This type of sentencing would move the severity of animal cruelty offenses from being an infraction to a misdemeanor.

After hearing from Eric Price and his peers, Mayor Shawn Barigar stated that he was unaware of much of the information he was presented with, specifically the lack of harsher punishment for previous offenders and the number of cases of animal cruelty occurring in Twin Falls. The team was pleasantly surprised by the City Council’s reaction. “They actually thought about it,” Caden Brusik said regarding officials taking the boys seriously. Thanks to these boys, city staff is now researching potential changes to their current animal cruelty laws!

These students looked around them, spoke up, and sparked a big change, proving that our voices really can make a difference. We might not be able to save every animal on our own, but if we can change the life of even one animal, we are making a great difference. Speak up for causes that need our attention, and educate those around you about the issues surrounding us. Small actions have a big impact!

Lead Image Source: Drew Nash/Times-News