Last night, I had an enormous headache and my tooth was extremely sore after my dental appointment earlier in the day. It was that kind of pain that just gnaws at you. The kind you can't get away from. I felt helpless. A few moments later I felt little cat paws on my body. It was my cat, Jasper, who is normally a ball of energy, gently making his way up until his little pink nose was on mine, followed by one tiny lick before he curled up against me and went to sleep. I still had the pain, but the intensity seemed to diminish almost instantly. I smiled and then I dozed off, too.

Life can be hard. Heartbreaking. Relentless, even. Yet, to me, one of the greatest mercies we are given on this planet are our companion animals. Truly, are they not our dearest friends? They simply love you. No matter how you look today, no matter what asinine comment you made, no matter what. They spend our most ordinary moments with us. There are no awkward misunderstandings or emotional agendas.  No, they are always just themselves and they bring unconditional love with them. What an amazing gift. In their trusting innocence, they also rely on us to care for them and keep them safe from the kind of pain and helplessness they can experience.

Perhaps this is why so many of us feel so passionately about protecting them from those who may neglect them or actively mean them harm. And, as hard as it is to believe, such people exist. You may have read our story from a couple of weeks about the heartbreaking situation discovered by Humane Society members who went undercover at Petland in Tyler as employees. What they found was tear-inducing. Whether or not this person in question intended to harm these animals or just didn't care, it is our duty to protect our animal friends.

Although we do have laws on the books that offer some level of protection against animal cruelty, some advocates feel they are not harsh enough. You can learn about our current laws against animal cruelty here. In many cases, those convicted in a civil case of animal abuse are usually fined in some way and the animals are taken away. If it is a criminal case, there can be some jail time, but some feel this should be for a longer duration.

Some who oppose stronger punishments feel "animals shouldn't be put on the same level as humans." I have heard this statement many a time. I personally feel that it isn't about comparing humans rights to animal rights, but about being more "human" in the way we defend those who can't defend themselves. Not to mention, there is a definite link between those who engage in cruelty to animals and those who are cruel to humans--from something as sadly common as domestic violence, to the more extreme example of serial killers who started out hurting animals as kids. It's not just the animals that are harmed, as horribly tragic as it is. It can also be connected to violence against humans.

So, now I ask for your opinion. Should we impose tougher laws on those who engage in animal cruelty? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Also, if you suspect animal neglect or cruelty, the SPCA of East Texas has a contact number for you here.