Improving New York’s Cruelty Laws

cat and horse

The Utica, New York mayor has called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo for stronger animal cruelty laws.

And there are a number of bills pending this session in New York’s legislature that would increase penalties, keep abusers away from animals, and require those convicted of abusing, neglecting or fighting animals to undergo mental health evaluations and any recommended treatment:

AB 269, sponsored by Assembly Member Amy Paulin, and S 1853, introduced by state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, would make a second offense within 5 years for animal cruelty under NY CLS Agr. & M. Sec. 353, a Class E felony. The second offense would be punishable the same as an act of aggravated animal cruelty or torture under NY CLS Agr & M Sec. 353-a, up to 2 years in prison. Currently, animal cruelty other than aggravated animal cruelty, is punishable as a misdemeanor no matter how many times the perpetrator commits it. Aggravated animal cruelty is defined as "conduct which: (i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner".  The statute protects only companion animals. Aggravated animal cruelty, as defined, is difficult to prove.

Neither this bill nor any of the pending bills would address the problem of proving someone "intended" to cause "extreme physical pain" as opposed simply to any unjustifiable pain or recklessly causing pain. It is also difficult to establish abuse was caused in "an especially depraved or sadistic" manner. To improve enforcement of animal cruelty laws, along with the increased penalties, it would be important to relax the burden of proof and include all animals within the protections of this law.  

Improvements in Buster’s Law

The aggravated animal cruelty law in New York, NY CLS Ag. & M. Sec. 353-a, is called "Buster’s Law", named for a cat, Buster, who died after he was set on fire. There are a number of bills pending to improve that law:

AB 1843, introduced by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, would include wildlife as well as companion animals within the protections of the aggravated animal cruelty law.

Even better is AB 2421 introduced by Assembly Member John J. McEneny and S.B. 5017 introduced by Sen. Defrancisco, which would define aggravated animal cruelty to apply to all animals, not only companion animals.  

AB 1632, filed by Assembly Member Jim Tedisco, and the senate version, S.B. 5083, introduced by Sen. Greg Ball, would expand the definition of aggravated animal cruelty under Buster’s Law to include the injury or death of a companion animal during commission of a felony. If a criminal robbing a store, for example, injuries or kills someone’s dog, for example, the criminal could also be charged with aggravated animal cruelty.

A 1520 also sponsored by Assembly Member Tedisco, and the senate version, S.B. 5015, introduced by Sen. Defrancisco, would increase the penalties for aggravated animal cruelty to a maximum of 4 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bill would also mean offenders would be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and, if appropriate, any recommended counseling or treatment.  

A1520/S.B. 5015 would increase as well possible penalties for animal fighting under NY CLS Agr. & M. Sec. 351 from 4 to 6 years imprisonment and the fine up to $30,000. Crimes that are now misdemeanors, owning, possessing, or keeping animals to be used for fighting or being a spectator at an animal fight, would be felonies. The former would be punishable by up to 4 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Being a spectator could mean a 2 year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.

Assembly Member Rosenthal has introduced A 1888 that would increase penalties for animal fighting, NY CLS Agr. & M. Sec. 351; animal cruelty, Sec. 353; aggravated animal cruelty, Sec. 353-a; failure to provide dogs with shelter, Sec. 353-b; abandonment, Sec. 355; failure to care for impounded animals, Sec. 356; carrying animals in a cruel manner, Sec. 359; and docking a dog’s ears, Sec. 365. Basically, the bill would increase penalties for second and subsequent offenses or if the animal was seriously injured or killed as a result of violating the particular law.

Under this bill, AB 1888, the crime of poisoning horses, mules, or cows under Sec. 360, would be extended to protect all animals and penalties would be increased for subsequent offenses and in cases where the animal was seriously injured or killed.  

Assembly Member Tedisco has introduced AB 1566 which would prohibit anyone convicted of aggravated animal cruelty from owning or keeping a companion animal unless psychiatric or psychological testing shows by "clear and convincing" evidence that the abuser can properly care for animals in a humane manner. A court will determine whether the testing shows the abuser should be allowed to have or keep companion animals. AB 1580 is the same.  For more on laws that limit an abuser’s access to animals…. 

AB 1566 would also include some horses in the definition of companion animal: horses that are used for recreation, racing, jumping, showing, rehabilitation or are otherwise treated like a companion animal or pet. 

AB 1567 which is Assembly Member Tedisco’s bill in the Assembly and introduced as S.B. 3805 by Sen. Greg Ball in the Senate, would unseal juvenile records to the extent there are crimes involving aggravated animal cruelty. The bill would also require those who "torture or cruelly beat or unjustifiably maim, mutilate or kill any anima, whether wild or tame" to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and any recommended treatment.

A 1878 filed by Assembly Member McEneny would add a definition of "abandonment" for the crime of abandoning an animal: It would mean anyone who "deserts or gives up possession of an animal in a public or private place, without transferring ownership or custody of such animal to another who voluntarily assumes such ownership or custody, and with the intention of not reclaiming the animal, or when he or she has been notified or otherwise knows of the location of the animal in a public place and fails to retrieve or take reasonable efforts to retrieve the animal." Abandoning an animal would remain a misdemeanor.  Sec. 355.


All of these bills have been referred to the Agriculture Committee. Find Assembly Agriculture Committee members here.  (Click on their names for contact info.) Find your New York Assembly Members here. Find Senate Agriculture Committee members here and your New York state senator here.

Write (faxes or letters are best) or call and urge committee members and your Assembly member and state senator to support these bills to improve New York’s animal cruelty laws. Let your legislators know that you are a constituent who votes!

Other proposed improvements     

AB 3468 sponsored by Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick, would require those obligated to report suspected child abuse to report as well suspected animal abuse by the alleged abuser. Reports of animal abuse would be forwarded to the ASPCA. These reports would be admissible in a proceeding concerning the animal abuse. Failure to make the required report could mean criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor and civil liability. 

This bill is pending in the Social Services Committee.   For more information on other cross-reporting laws as a way to improve enforcement of animal cruelty laws….

AB 369 would require the Dept. of Ag. & Mkts. to develop a mandatory program for training and certification of dog control officers. The bill, however, is more focused on "animal control" than care. Assembly Member Sam Hoyt is the sponsor.

AB 4038, introduced by Assembly Member Steve Englebright, would allow district attorneys to petition on behalf of shelters and rescuing organizations for a bond or other security from a person charged with abuse or neglect to cover the cost of the care of the animal. The bill would save the shelters the cost of obtaining a court order for the bond or other security.

A 259, sponsored by Assembly Member Paulin, and the Senate version, S.B. 3806, introduced by Sen. Greg Ball, would similarly, put the burden on the court, not the shelter, to set a hearing to determine the amount of security to be posted to cover costs of animals seized as a result of animal cruelty or animal fighting investigations.  It would be up to the district attorney to pursue the security though the shelter could be present and provide evidence. 

As the introduction to the bill provides:

Because crimes against  animals  often involve  the  seizure of the victimized animals, these cases pose unique challenges to law enforcement agencies throughout New York state.  These challenges  involve  arranging  for  the housing and care of the animals while the criminal case is pending. Private organizations, such as shelters, humane societies and societies for the prevention  of  cruelty  to animals  have traditionally assisted law enforcement agencies by providing care for these animals (which preserves  the  "evidence"  seized  in criminal matters) with little or no reimbursement.

It  is imperative to the continued prosecution of animal cruelty cases that these private organizations be reimbursed for the  care  that  they provide  to  these  victimized  animals.  Many private organizations are declining to offer assistance in these cases  because  of  the  enormous  financial  burden  of  caring for a large number of animals for extended time periods with no assurance of reimbursement for these  services.  If there are no resources to care for the animals once they are seized, law enforcement  is  less likely to conduct the seizures in the first place.

The legislature therefore intends to  implement  legislation  that  will  improve  the state’s ability to ensure proper security and reimbursement for impounding organizations providing care on behalf of  the  state  of abused animals.



These bills are also pending in the Agriculture Committee.

Go here to find information about New York bills relating to animal abuse registries and databases, farm animal cruelty, pet dealers and animal fighting.