A worker with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals holds a rescued dog; one of hundreds being treated in a warehouse about an hour southwest of Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. The ASPCA rescued over 600 animals after they were found in conditions that the sheriff called “awful and very sad.” The ASPCA says it’s one of the largest rescues in its 150-year history. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A Republican from St. Charles wants judges to order psychological or psychiatric evaluations and treatment for convicted animal abusers.

Under legislation sponsored by state Rep. Chrissy Sommer, judges would have the option of ordering first-time offenders to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation and other treatment. The offender would have to pay for the services.

Judges would be required to order evaluations if the crime “involved torture or mutilation” of an animal, or if the person committing the crime had any prior animal abuse convictions.

Minors would also be subject to the new law, and parents or guardians may be required to pay for court-ordered counseling.

The National Sheriff’s Association says animal cruelty is a “gateway crime” that can act as a precursor to other crimes, including murder or domestic abuse.

“This has to do with animal abuse,” Sommer told the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee on Monday, “but it’s more than that. It has to do actually with the psychiatric, or mental health side of it.”

Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said the legislation could be useful in hoarding situations, when dozens or hundreds of animals are confiscated from a home.

When hoarders go to jail, they come out and again begin hoarding animals, he said.

“We can see this over and over and over again,” Baker said. “We often saw the relationship between crimes against animals and crimes against the humans,” he said of his time as an animal cruelty investigator.

Another version of Sommer’s legislation that she introduced last year did not make it out of committee.

Animal abuse in Missouri includes “intentionally or purposefully” killing an animal in any way not exempted by law, or purposefully or intentionally injuring an animal.

Animal owners can also be convicted of animal abuse if the owner “knowingly fails to provide adequate care which results in substantial harm to the animal.”

The first offense for animal abuse is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.

The person can be charged with a Class E felony if they have a prior animal abuse conviction, or if they consciously torture or mutilate the animal while it is still alive.

Committee members were generally supportive of the bill, but they raised concerns over whether mental health professionals could use the new provision as a “cash cow” by recommending treatment that an offender may not need.

They also ​​wondered who would pay for the evaluations or counseling if the offender or their family is poor.

Sommer’s legislation is House Bill 111.

By Jack Suntrup | St. Louis Post Dispatch