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LOB becomes 'Animal House' for the day

Laura LaFrate, spoke at the second annual Animal Advocacy day with Assemblyman Jim Tedisco. Photo by Andrew Carden.
June 18, 2012
The Well of the Legislative Office Building went to the dogs last Wednesday, as Assemblyman Jim Tedisco and Sen. Greg Ball hosted the second annual Animal Advocacy day, highlighting legislation meant to better protect our four-legged friends.

Tedisco, R-Schenectady, brought his three-and-a-half year old Welsh Corgi, "Amazing" Grace to the rally. "As much as I have given her, she's given a lot more to me and my family," he said.

"There are a lot of partisan issues," he continued. "It's great to have a non-partisan issue. When we protect the least of our creatures, we protect the rest of our families."

Tedisco says animal abuse is often a bridge crime, citing famous serial killers like David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer as animal abusers. He sponsors legislation with Ball, R-Patterson, amending Buster's Law, which created a felony charge for animal abuse.

The bill (A.1506-a/S.3804-a) creates a registry of animal abusers with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, banning them from owning or working with animals. Names would only be removed from the registry following a psychological evaluation and a court order.

Three other Buster's Law amendments include requiring a psychiatric evaluation and treatment for convicted animal abusers (A.1567/S.3805), the criminalization of death or physical injury of an animal occurring during or immediately after a felony is committed (A.1632/S.5083) and prohibiting convicted animal abusers from possessing a companion animal until undergoing a psychiatric evaluation (A.1580/S.5084). All three bills are sponsored by Tedisco and Ball.

Ball also sponsors a bill (A.697-d/S.7268-a) with Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, to establish new standards for pet dealers, including quarantining animals displaying signs of illness, establishing an exercise plan for animals appropriate to their breed and creating and maintaining veterinary records. The bill passed the Assembly June 5 and passed the Senate on Animal Advocacy day, after five years of stalling in the Legislature.

The program included speeches from district attorneys, animal advocates, television personalities and legislators. Many legislators, like Assemblywomen Nicole Malliotakis and Claudia Tenney, bottom right, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, enjoyed the visit from the four-legged companions. Photo by Andrew Carden.
Ball, who brought his nearly 9-year-old Weimaraner, Hannah, to the lobby day, said there is a lot more that needs to be done to protect animals. "It's tough to get good things done," he said.

The bill, called Charlemagne's Law, was inspired by Lorianne Pagano, whose husband bought her a puppy, Charlemagne, as a present in 2003.

"We knew he was ill," said Pagano. "He was unfit for sale and the pet store did nothing."

Charlemagne died in 2007 of kidney disease.

"I am absolutely ecstatic [the bill passed]," said Pagano.

Tedisco began the series of speeches by celebrating "the real unsung heroes" — the animal shelters, advocates and rescue groups. He asked all the paid lobbyists in the room to raise their hand. Seeing none, Tedisco said people are here because they are passionate about animals' well-being.

Schenectady County District Attorney Bob Carney spoke about Buster's Law and how it exemplified animal abuse escalating to harming humans.

In 1997, 16-year-old Chester Williamson doused Buster, an 18-month-old kitten, in kerosene before lighting him on fire.

"After he did what he did to Buster, in 2005, he committed a burglary and went to state prison for three years," said Carney. "And after he got out of state prison, he wasn't out for more than a few months, I think, when he grabbed a girl in Central Park [and] attempted to rape her."

Carney said Williamson was sentenced to 12 years in state prison, charged with aggravated sexual assault in the second degree. He asked advocates to speak passionately to legislators about animal rights.

"Harness your care and concern for animals and talk to the legislators here today," he said. "Get some of these good ideas passed."

Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy said animal abusers should be kept track of, just as child abusers and sex abusers are.

"We know oftentimes sex abusers and child abusers start off abusing their pets," he said.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares echoed Murphy's frustration about the inability to track animal abusers and the lack of prosecutorial penalties.

"To see the damage and the pain inflicted on those creatures that cannot speak for themselves and then pour your heart out in the prosecution, where you're bringing in experts and witnesses to testify and to have the jury return a verdict — all this for a sentence equivalent to a smack on the wrist," he said.

Kathleen Rice, Nassau County district attorney, said she created an animal crime unit in 2010, along with an animal cruelty hotline.

"We have received 1,200 calls," she said.

The advocates also heard from two television personalities, Prince Lorenzo Borghese of "The Bachelor" fame and Laura LaFrate, a Scotia, Schenectady County native and runner-up on the latest cycle of "America's Next Top Model."

Borghese said animal rights should be taught early, starting in the school system. "We should teach children that abusing animals is wrong and [teach them] to report the crimes," he said.

LaFrate, who is taking time off from Syracuse University, where she studied to become a veterinarian, said animal abuse is worse in other countries, citing her experiences in South Africa.

According to LaFrate, she would see people squeeze puppies' throats in order to extort money from sympathetic passersby. The puppies, she said, would often die as a result.

"A dog bark sounds the same in every language," she said.

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