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Pinky the flamingo's death raises the question: How should animal abusers be punished?

TAMPA — Joseph Anthony Corrao shot and killed his neighbor's dogs three years ago. Now he is accused of brutally manhandling the flamingo named Pinky, the bird Busch Gardens had to euthanize last week.

On Sunday, the 45-year-old Orlando man posted $5,000 bail and walked out of the Hillsborough County jail after spending five days behind bars on a charge of felony animal cruelty.

Animal lovers hope Corrao's punishment will be far harsher, especially given his past record.

Using Pinky the flamingo as their poster child, animal rights advocates have taken to online petitions to seek harsher penalties against animal abusers. Will Florida lawmakers heed their cry?

Probably not, experts say, but the outcry could ensure a harsher penalty for the accused.

Already, Florida's animal welfare laws are ranked the 14th toughest in the country by the Humane Society of the United States, tied with four other states. The ranking measures policies on protecting animals and punishing offenders.

Florida charges abusers with a felony even if it's their first offense for animal cruelty. The state also requires psychological counseling.

"I think the petitions in the larger picture will hopefully just make sure Pinky didn't die in vain with nobody remembering her, where the case fades away — which happens," said Laura Bevan, the Humane Society's southern regional director.

Pinky was a Chilean flamingo who died a month shy of her 20th birthday. She was known to mimic dance moves, such as the flamenco.

FLAMINGO KILLED: Orlando man arrested in death of Busch Gardens' Pinky

Corrao could not be reached for comment this week.

Tampa police have released new details about the Aug. 2 incident: Corrao was visiting the park with his daughters and mother. Police said he told them he was just trying to show off to his daughter when he picked up the bird (Pinky was the second bird he grabbed.)

He told investigators that he didn't mean to injure Pinky, said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty, and apologized when he found out she had to be euthanized.

On AnimalPetitions.org, a user posted a letter for anyone to fill in and send to Tampa police demanding "justice." A Change.org petition that reads "people will continue to harm innocent creatures as long as the penalties are so low" was emailed to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The creator plans to send it to the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, where prosecutors are deciding whether to put Corrao on trial.

"We are now in the process of reviewing the evidence and speaking with witnesses before a filing decision is made in this case," said spokesman Mark Cox.

But lawmakers are largely in tune with the appropriate punishment for animal abusers, said David Favre, a law professor and animal law expert at Michigan State University.

"Animals are still considered property under the law," Favre said. "To hurt an animal is not the same as hurting a human."

But, he added, that doesn't mean those charges aren't serious.

Facing a third-degree animal cruelty charge for the second time, Corrao could be looking at even more time in prison. His arrest at Busch Gardens came a year after his release from state prison on 2013 charges that he executed his neighbor's two dogs and threatened a witness.

The maximum punishment for the felony charge he currently faces is five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The minimum sentence for a two-time offender would be six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Pinky's violent death quickly went viral, and may have already impacted the case. The charge called for $2,000 bail, but a Hillsborough County judge used his discretion Aug. 3 to raise it to $5,000.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the company that owns Busch Gardens, said prosecutors should pursue the case against Corrao.

"SeaWorld will strongly urge prosecution in this case, and for any person who engages in this sort of cruel behavior towards animals," Joel Manby, SeaWorld's president and CEO, said in a news release. "Our Ambassador team members are appalled by this incident, and I am sure they share my view that our state must have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of cruelty."

AFTER PINKY'S DEATH: Some question birds' protection at Busch Gardens

But Favre said even a high-profile animal cruelty case seldom draws a five-year sentence, though Corrao's earlier convictions could earn him more than one year. If Corrao is convicted of this latest charge, his sentence will be largely up to the judge. A sentence of less than a year would be served in a county jail, anything above that would send him back to prison.

Bevan said it could be months or years before the case goes to trial, if ever. She understands the petitioners' passion but advised them to remember how the criminal justice system works. This isn't an episode of Law & Order, she said. Still, experts believe heightened public interest in the case could help ensure a harsher penalty for Corrao.

"These are people who do need to get looked at," Bevan said. "If you can't control your anger around a flamingo that tap dances, what is your anger in the other aspects of life?"

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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