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State Senate Majority Leader Skelos; Champion for dogs, people who love them

By Mike Hudson

New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos with his dog, Rocky.

People convicted of animal cruelty in New York will be made to bear the burden of costs incurred by their crimes, under a new law signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislation generated headlines coast to coast over the weekend, as thousands of animal lovers vowed to push for similar legislation in their own home states on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Typically, when an individual is charged with animal cruelty, the animals in his or her care are seized by law enforcement authorities and handed over to the SPCA, the Humane Society, a private shelter or a rescue organization while the case winds its way through the legal system, a process than can take a year or more.

Previously, the often considerable costs associated with the care and feeding of these seized animals were borne by the charitable organizations themselves. The best that could be hoped for was that, following a conviction, a lawsuit might be filed in an attempt to recoup expenses.

In 2010, for example, 73 horses and more than 50 cats were seized from an individual in Erie County and turned over to the county’s SPCA. It took nine months before there was a hearing in the case and, as of January of this year, the SPCA had spent more than $1.4 million caring for the sick and malnourished animals and managed to collect just $300,000 from the defendant in the case.

Under the new law, the SPCA could have moved immediately after the defendant's arraignment to have a hearing regarding payment.

“The financial burden of caring for many animals, often for lengthy periods of time, is forcing some organizations to stop assisting law enforcement with housing seized animals,” said state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. “Where there is no organization to care for seized animals, law enforcement is less likely to conduct seizures and animals remain in abusive situations and conditions.”

Skelos pointed out that humane organizations often lack the financial resources to hire attorneys to go after animal abusers, and under the new law they won’t have to. A provision in the legislation authorizes the district attorney prosecuting the cruelty case to file for relief on behalf of the organization housing the seized animals.

Skelos has a long history of advocating for stronger laws regarding animal cruelty. Earlier this year, he led the Senate in passing a bill that would require those convicted of felony animal abuse be added to a registry of animal abusers. The bill passed in the senate in June. However, it failed to garner the necessary support to pass the state assembly.

The failed bill would have also required anyone convicted of felony animal cruelty to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and would ban them from ever owning a pet again, a law that most observers see as hard to enforce.

More than a dozen states have introduced legislation to establish pet abuser registries, however.

Suffolk County is the first municipality to pass such a law.

Skelos was a supporter of Buster’s Law, enacted in 1999, which made animal cruelty in New York State a felony. The law was named after a cat that was doused in kerosene and lit on fire in 1997.

Last year, Skelos was instrumental in the passage of legislation that makes it easier for local municipalities to crack down on “puppy mills,” which provide retail pet stores with dogs and cats that are often malnourished, poorly cared for and diseased.

This bill provides improved standards of care that must be followed by pet dealers to improve the health, safety and well-being of the animals.

Sex offender, animal abuser registry... What’s next? (make this a headline)

First a sex offender registry.

Next, an animal abuser registry?

Efforts to establish online registries for animal abusers, like the ones for sex offenders, are gaining support, with legislation pending or soon-to-be-introduced in several states.

Registries also have been proposed in Maryland, Colorado, Arizona and New York.

Suffolk County on Long Island created a registry, and has since been followed by two other New York counties.

Convicted abusers appear on the registry for five years.

They now have registrations of dog-kickers and 20-years-ago statutory rapists.

Those failing to register as animal abusers are subject to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

What's next?

Residence restrictions? Can't live within 1,500 feet of a zoo or pet store?

Detractors of the sex offender registries have wondered why sex offenders are singled out for these public shaming laws.

Why not have murder registries?

Since drunk drivers are statistically much more dangerous to children, why not a DUI/DWI registry?

Or better yet we could register everyone. There could be the prostitute registry, the drug dealer registry, the illegal firearm sales registry, the drunk registry, the speeding driver registry, the thief registry, the animal abuser registry, the animal owner registry, and of course the smallest registry, the "haven't been caught violating any of the thousands of laws we have yet" registry.

The truth is the public doesn't care how bad things get for sex offenders, because the public perception is that all sex offenders are child rapists. Lawmakers don't care how bad things get for sex offenders because each new, harsher law they pass is a quick and easy "tough on crime" credit.

The same holds for dog abusers.

The laws are easy to make since no one will oppose any law that punishes child and animal abusers, no matter how unconstitutional or lacking in due process.

It's just too easy for lawmakers to make headlines with these kinds of laws.

Provision for Pet Cost of Care (headline font style)

The animal cost recovery bill is not so much a new law, but an amendment to existing law.

The amendment inserts the district attorney as the entity pursuing restitution for the costs of seizing the abused animal in instances where the impounding organization does not do so itself.

The amendment spares the impounding organization from incurring legal fees in trying to collect from the accused animal abuser.

By virtue of this law, either upon arraignment or shortly after, a hearing is held at which the court would decide whether the accused must post a bond to insure the care for the seized animal.

The district attorney or the impounding organization would have to show by a preponderance of the evidence (a lesser burden of proof) that the accused violated the animal cruelty statute in order to have the bond posted by the defendant.

In the event the accused is acquitted, the person who posted the security is entitled to a full refund of the security, including reimbursement by the impounding organization of any amount allowed by the court to be expended. He would also be entitled to the return of the animal seized.

Animal Cruelty

All animals are created equal.

My hen worked so hard to lay an egg and I immediately grabbed it for breakfast.

If I had only poached it and not scrambled it, I would not be facing prosecution.

I am so sorry, but my hen didn't lay an egg today. I was so hungry, I just had to eat her.

Some animals are more equal than others.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Dec 31, 2013