NY takes steps to end 'barbaric cruelty' to animals
August 15, 2011Spectators caught attending animal fights will now face stiffer punishments in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Aug. 4 that will increase the penalties for animal fight attendees from a traffic ticket-style violation to a Class B misdemeanor punishable by either three months in jail, a $500 fine or both. Repeat offenders face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The Humane Society of the United States said although dogfighting and cockfighting are felonies in New York, attendees allow the animal fighting industry to exist by paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in admissions fees and wagers.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, New York is ranked 48th in the nation for its animal fighting laws — meaning 47 states have stricter regulations. It is one of only four states that doesn't punsish spectators at animals fights with felony charges.
The new law would also address the problem of fight organizers escaping prosecution by pretending to be spectators, rather than organizers, according to John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy at the Humane Society. There is no way for police to distinguish between fighters and spectators.
Goodwin said this law could "turn off the magnet" that drew animal fighters to New York becuase of its weak regulations. The punishment for animal fighters needs to be stronger than the potential gambling profits in order for the law to be effective, he said.
"[The lawmakers] should be commended for that," he said. But he added, "There are other aspects of the law that need to be tightened up, such as owning a dog with the intention to fight."
Goodwin said he would certainly be in favor of making it a felony to attend a fight, but New York lawmakers should focus next on those in possesion of dogs with the intent to enter them in fights.
"We need to shut down these operations where they breed animals just to fight to the death," he said.
The bill (S.3237-a/A.4407-a), sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, will take effect next month.
"This goes to show that the most powerful voices in our representative democracy are not the elected officials but the people we represent," said Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Schnectady, who signed on as a multi-sponsor of the bill and has championed other animal crulty legislation. "Animal advocates, pet owners and New Yorkers from across the state spoke and our elected officials listened — a bill to protect animals from the barbaric cruelty of animal fighting is now law."
Tedisco sponsored a bill that was signed in 1999 called Buster's Law that created a felony category of "aggravated cruelty to animals," punishable by up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Buster was an 18-month-old cat a Schenectady teen covered with kerosene and burned to death, according to Tedisco's office.
The assemblyman also held the first New York state Animal Advocacy Day on June 1 in Albany, which drew more than 500 animal advocates.
"Throughout New York, animals are forced to fight to the death and tear each other apart," said Patrick Kwan, New York state director for the Humane Society. "The Humane Society of the United States commends Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Lentol for championing this anti-crime and anti-cruelty bill and thanks Gov. Cuomo, Senator Majority Leader Skelos and Assembly Speaker Silver for their leadership in bringing us one major step closer to stopping this gruesome bloodsport."
Tedisco sponsored a bill (A.1580/S.5084) this year that would require those convicted of Buster's Law to receive a psychiatric examination and would prohibit them from having a pet without court authorization. The bill was referred to the Assembly Agriculture Committee in January. The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Greg Ball, R-Patterson, where it was advanced to a third reading and then committed to the Rules Committee on June 24.
Another bill (A.1506/S.3804) Tedisco and Ball sponsored would require that convicted animal abusers be placed on a registry.
Goodwin said the Humane Society of the United States hasn't found the registries to be useful but that psychiatric evaluations could be helpful because animal abusers often have psychiatric problems.