Unless they're the brains behind a dog-fighting operation, an individual's punishment for crimes against animals may not be harsh enough in New Jersey to deter them from committing a similar heinous act in the future.

So a proposal in the state Legislature would escalate the charges faced by certain animal abusers — specifically those who purposely torture or maim a living creature, displaying a blatant disregard for their life.

Inspired by a heart-wrenching tale over the summer, state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, has introduced River's Law, which creates the category of aggravated animal abuse, a second-degree crime that can put someone behind bars for up to 10 years and force them to pay a fine of up to $150,000.

"It really puts teeth into the law, so to speak, so we can bite back when these bastards act in this depraved way," O'Scanlon told New Jersey 101.5. "This gives the extra large hammer to a prosecutor in a blatant situation where someone is wantonly being cruel to an animal."

O'Scanlon said New Jersey's been home to several incidents where an "extra level of charge" was warranted.

His measure is named for a puppy that was found left in a cage along a rising tide in Highlands in late July. The woman who rescued the pit bull renamed him River.

Jennifer Vaz and "River," the dog she found in the ocean off Highlands
Jennifer Vaz and "River," the dog she found in the ocean off Highlands
(Monmouth County Prosector's Office)

Aaron Davis, the Long Branch man accused of leaving the dog to drown, was indicted this week on animal cruelty and attempted animal cruelty charges. The 35-year-old could see close to seven years behind bars if convicted on both counts.

If it were to become law, O'Scanlon hopes publicity of the new class of charges would dissuade individuals from acting so cruelly toward dogs or other animals.

"But if need be, we'll remove these monsters from the streets for a lengthy period of time," he said.

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