'Justice for Ponce'

South Daytona residents Luann and Marshall MacKenzie, with their dog Duke, say using their rear windshield as a way of honoring Ponce, a nine-month-old Labrador retriever that was fatally beaten by his owner in Ponce Inlet, has been an effective way to draw attention to the need for tougher state animal cruelty laws.

With “Justice For Ponce” emblazoned on their Kia Soul’s rear windshield, South Daytona residents Marshall and Luann MacKenzie hope to make state penalties for animal cruelty as tough as they can get.

Ponce was the name given after his death to a nine-month-old Labrador retriever puppy brutally beaten April 8  by his owner, according to Ponce Inlet Police.

Officers said they went to the home on Aurora Avenue around 12:20 a.m. after receiving a call from a man who said he could hear his neighbor beating his dog.

The dog’s owner, Travis Archer, 43,  told police he had thrown the black Labrador against a wall in his home because the dog had made a mess in his house and he was trying to discipline him. Officers followed him into the backyard where they found Ponce lying on its side with its head resting against the fence, according to a police report.

Mr. Archer was later arrested for aggravated animal assault, booked into the Volusia County jail and later released on bail.

Officials said a necropsy report showed “blunt force trauma to the skull, fracturing and crushing multiple teeth.

Public outrage over the fate of the Lab puppy was immediate and unusually angry.

As of May 19, more than 22,400 people had signed an online petition dubbed Ponce Law@change.org that called for harsher Florida animal cruelty penalties.

Shocked that such an incident could happen in their small beachside community, the Ponce Inlet Town Council rushed to join the “Justice For Ponce” movement, unanimously passing a resolution urging the state legislature to amend state laws to impose harsher punishment and penalties for animal abuse.

Both the Town Council and online petition call for changing state animal cruelty laws from a third-degree to a more punishing second-degree felony.

“This event brought attention to the fact that the penalty for such an act is no greater than the theft of a $300 bicycle,” Mayor Gary L. Smith said, “The Ponce Inlet Town Council finds the current state law to lack the awareness that animals are sentient beings and deserve our protection.”

Not stopping at the city limits, Mayor Smith asked New Smyrna Beach Mayor James Hathaway and other mayors in Volusia County to join in supporting the tougher penalties.

Supporters of the “Justice For Ponce” movement say maximum pressure will have to be placed on the Legislature to create the harsher penalties animal cruelty deserves. In the last legislative session, action on a law that would have required animal abusers to be registered in a public database was not acted on by the end of the session and later withdrawn.

A growing number of supporters of the Ponce Law online petition are joining the MacKenzies by using their rear windshields as an effective way of getting the word out to as many people as possible.

“If not stopping animal abuse, at least we can punish the criminals who would stoop so low to harm, let alone, torture and kill a poor innocent animal,” Mr. MacKenzie said.

He knows the “Justice For Ponce” handwritten sign on his rear window is being noticed.

“Like most people driving down the street, having the car next to you honk their horn is annoying, to say the least,” Mr. Mackenzie explained. “However, as of late, I welcome it; that’s because it’s someone waving or giving me thumbs up because we stand united.”

The Mackenzies said they were outraged when they first learned of the “heartbreaking details of little Ponce’s death.”

“However, we were profoundly moved by the incredible movement spreading throughout Volusia County,” he said, “Ponce’s law@change.org has over 22,000 signatures – and we will not stop until we have enough support to get the state animal cruelty laws changed.”

And there are more ways of attracting attention than just windshields, Mr. MacKenzie said.

His wife, Luann, has hand painted and scattered hundreds of colorful “Ponce rocks” and “Ponce tennis balls” in local dog parks, restaurants and stores.

Lucky finders who look on the bottom of the rocks and on the tennis balls are encouraged to visit Ponce’s Law@change.org or join Team Ponce@Justice for Ponce on Facebook.

The change.org petition, sponsored by Daytona Beach resident Debbie Taylor Darino, states, “I want to present a proposed amendment to our state Legislature for consideration of amending the current animal cruelty laws, specifically Florida Statute 828.12 from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony and to impose stricter, harsher punishment and penalties in the event of the abuse, torture, and killing of innocent animals.”

For more information about "Justice For Ponce" email the MacKenzies at marshalldo2014@gmail.com.

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