Letter: Fighting Animal Abuse

Chief Ken Ross of the Putnam SPCA brings up very good points to close typical loopholes in an animal-abuse registry law (Putnam Set to Create Animal Abuse Registry, Dec. 2). One challenge, however, is those charged with animal abuse are rarely convicted of a misdemeanor that would get them on the registry. Most people take plea deals and are convicted of charges below the level that would place them on a registry.

For instance, the Dutchess County SPCA Humane Law Enforcement charged an individual with animal cruelty for putting his cat into a cardboard box, which he taped shut. He then abandoned the cat next to a dumpster. The judge allowed a plea deal, and the offender pleaded guilty to a violation charge of “Inappropriate Shelter for Dogs” and paid a nominal fine.

We receive about 1,700 calls and investigate more than 400 animal abuse cases per year. We have a high conviction rate but of those charged with a misdemeanor animal cruelty crime, about 10 percent plead guilty to or are found guilty of the misdemeanor that would qualify offenders to have to register. That’s about the same percentage as in Putnam County. It is not because of shoddy investigations or charges but because animal-abuse cases are generally seen as “court cloggers” and are  disposed of as quickly as possible with plea bargains. Local judges need to change the way they handle these cases, take them seriously and treat them as they do with other criminal acts.

While I applaud New York counties for developing and enacting animal abuse registries, a statewide registry would be the most effective way to identify convicted animal abusers. Since it will be left up to those who are selling, giving away or adopting out animals to check the status of a buyer or adopter, it would make sense to check a central registry. There are 62 counties in New York State. To have to check the information scattered on dozens of registries in order to release an animal to an individual is an arduous task.

Animal abuse is linked to violent crime, like child abuse and domestic violence, and the FBI now tracks animal-abuse statistics through its national crime reporting system. It is important that New York State also recognizes this link and takes action. By the state recognizing this important link and implementing a central registry, it can serve a dual purpose for the public as well.

Kim McNamee, Senior Humane Law Enforcement Officer, Dutchess County SPCA, Hyde Park

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