An Ohio law that would make abusing pets a felony rather than a misdemeanor awaits approval by Gov. John Kasich.

House Bill 20, also known as Goddard’s Law, passed through the Ohio Senate with almost unanimous bipartisan support Wednesday. It passed the Ohio House last June with similar support.

Goddard’s Law, named for longtime Cleveland meteorologist and animal activist Dick Goddard, was first proposed in 2013. Several felony cruelty laws died on the legislature’s floor before it.

If approved by the governor, the law would make it a fifth-degree felony to knowingly cause serious physical harm to a companion animal such as a pet or service animal, both in homes and in pet stores. It does not apply to livestock or wild animals.

Ohio’s current laws list animal cruelty as a second-degree misdemeanor.

Local animal experts applauded the law.

“It should absolutely be a felony. It should be more than just a misdemeanor because you’re dealing with another life,” said Susan Jenkins, owner of Akron-based Papp’s Dog Services. “There are even statistics that some serial killers start off as animal abusers.”

Jenkins, a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, said the law was necessary because pets are more and more viewed as family members.

“It’s something that’s needed,” she said. “But it’s going to be interesting to see how prosecutors will work with this law. Just passing a law doesn’t mean it’s easy to prosecute and enforce.”

Dr. Neal Sivula, a veterinarian with Dancing Paws Animal Wellness Center in Richfield, also cheered making cruelty a felony — but he expressed concerns about enforcement.

“It may make it harder to prosecute these cases,” he said.

Sivula said that’s because the law might make it harder for humane societies to call on special prosecutors who are specialized in handling animal cases.

In addition to stiffening the penalties, the law also would require state officials to provide resources to veterinarians to identify pet owners who deceive vets to obtain opioids.

Sivula said his practice has not seen owners deceive vets — as far as they know — but it is becoming a trend throughout the country.

“In reading trade publications, it’s becoming more and more of a problem,” he said. “If we had more resources to be able to help identify those people, that would be great.”

The law also would tack mandatory prison time to assaulting a police dog, which is already a felony in Ohio.

The bill’s backers say research has shown links between mistreatment of animals and other types of offenses, including crimes that hurt people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or nglunt@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ.