Utica, NY Mayor Calls on Gov. Cuomo for Stronger Animal Cruelty Penalties

dogUtica, New York Mayor David Roefaro told new Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a letter that the state’s animal cruelty laws are "outdated". The mayor explained "[l]aw enforcement is tasked with proving a broad range of variables when prosecuting an animal abuse case.

"Generally, law enforcement must settle on a misdemeanor because the burden of proof is too great….Moreover, prosecuting an individual with a felony crime is extremely difficult and often an abandoned option". As the mayor pointed out, some of the laws are simply too vague.

The mayor called for a "serious look" at updating New York’s animal cruelty laws.

Mayor Roefaro sent the governor a newspaper listing of recent cases in Utica of egregious animal cruelty that were not prosecuted or prosecuted as misdemeanors. The most recent is the case of the little dog, Apollo, tied to a table during a night of subzero temperatures. The little dog suffered severe frostbite, his hair and skin literally missing in patches, with icicles  hanging off of him. Apollo was rescued by police after neighbors reported his cries. It is not clear why the police have not charged anyone in that case with animal cruelty. For more….

Critics say the mayor is simply heading off bad publicity for animal cruelty cases that have not been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, if at all.

Regardless, the most egegious animal cruelty in New York, a felony, would result in no more than a 2 year prison sentence. As the mayor pointed out, New York’s felony animal abuse law called aggravated animal cruelty, is difficult to prove, its requirements vague: "When, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with" conduct "intended to cause extreme physical pain"; or which "is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner." NY CLS Ag & Mkts. Sections 353a. 

Except for certain animal fighting crimes which can be punished by jail sentences up to 4 years, other acts of animal cruelty are only misdemeanors. NY CLS Ag & Mkts. Sections 350, 351, 353.

The law concerning sheltering is particularly weak. Dogs are not supposed to be left outside in inclement weather. Dogs left outside in inclement weather must have "ready access to, or the ability to enter, a house, apartment building, office building, or any other permanent structure". NY CLS Ag & Mkts. Sections 353b. The "housing facility… must: (1) have a waterproof roof; (2) be structurally sound with insulation appropriate to local climatic conditions and sufficient to protect the dog from inclement weather".  There are no such specific requirements for other animals.

The penalty is at most a $100 fine which can be reduced if the dog’s keeper provides a satisfactory shelter.        

Here is the mayor’s list sent to Gov. Cuomo:

*In June, 2010, Melissa A. Vandelinder, 43, of 3 King Street, Apt. 2., who was arrested for failure to provide sustenance to two one-year-old pitbulls. The dogs were immediately seized from her home and placed in the care of the Herkimer County Humane Society.

*In June, 2010, Kevin J. Miller, 22, of Oneida, was arrested for three counts of failing to provide proper sustenance to his dogs, a Class A Misdemeanor under the Agriculture and Markets Law.

*In April, 2010, Theodore Chrystie, 20, of Larchmont Avenue, Utica, was arrested for misdemeanor animal cruelty after a Utica Police Officer observed him punching and slapping a six-month-old boxer puppy, Duke, in a shopping center parking lot. Duke was adopted out to a new family shortly after the incident.

*In March 2010, Rebecca L. Spratt, 24, of 319 Rutger Street, was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after she allegedly stabbed a pitbull puppy during a heated domestic incident. Spratt claimed the animal wasn’t hers and it was returned to its owner, who lived at the same address.

*In February 2010, Utica Police arrested Shawn Kimball after an investigation revealed he shot his girlfriend’s family kitten, Marshmallow, with a gas-powered air pistol three times, resulting in what the autopsy revealed was a slow and painful death.

*In January 2010, Edward Paul Ruggerio was arrested by Little Falls Police after someone reported that he ripped a chunk of hair from an 8-week-old New Foundland puppy with a power drill. Police seized Buddy and turned him over to the Herkimer County Humane Society. After Ruggerio surrendered him, he was adopted out to a new family.

*In November of 2009, Utica Police arrested Gregory Patterson, 20, and Lashanta Jackson, 23, both of Wall Street in Utica, for misdemeanor animal abuse. The one year-old pitbull mix was severely emaciated. Annie was brought into the Stevens-Swan Humane Society by an animal control officer after her owners allegedly neglected her.

*In October of 2008, Dennis Van Buren, 50, of Columbus Avenue, Utica, was arrested by Utica Police and charged with animal cruelty. He allegedly picked up a 10-week-old pitbull puppy by its legs and threw it against a wall, causing severe head trauma and a fractured right front leg, officials said. The dog was rescued by Utica’s Animal Control officer.

*In February of 2008, Shaun Patrick Sullivan, 28 of 59 Burwell Street, Little Falls was arrested for felony aggravated animal cruelty by LFPD after he allegedly beat his dog to death.

*October of 2007, Mark A. Beacraft, then 22, of Little Falls, was arrested by LFPD for aggravated animal cruelty after he admitted to killing a cat on the South side of the city. He allegedly committed the act in a bandstand gazebo in Columbia Park. In April of 2010 he was arrested and charged with second-degree assault for injuring a four-year-old child.

*In May of 2007, Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested John D. Bouyea, 39, of Quiet Valley Trailer park on Simmons Road in Vernon, for aggravated animal cruelty. Bouyea allegedly stabbed his 6-year-old pitbull, Baby, several times.

*In May of 2007, Natasha Daniels of 126 Boyce Avenue in Utica, was arrested for animal cruelty after law enforcement — originally busting her on drug charges — found two pitbulls that had been kept in her attic for two years. The dogs were released to the Stevens-Swan Humane Society after living amongst garbage in their own urine and feces.