Editorial: Toughen laws on animal abuse

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and State Sen. Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and State Sen. Charles Fuschillo with Tinker, a rescued dog that lost two legs after being hit by a car. Rice and Fuschillo announced legislation intended to modernize and strengthen New York's animal cruelty laws. (APRIL 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

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The legislators who decades ago wrote the laws on fair treatment of animals in New York, and appropriate punishments for people who abused them, didn't do so in very clear terms, or with the pet-loving society of today in mind. Some current laws on animal abuse are practically impossible to understand. Others provide too-soft penalties for abhorrent crimes, like organizing dog fighting and killing guide dogs.

Much of the law on how we treat animals is in the state's agriculture and market laws, and doesn't fit our current relationships with our furry, finned and even scaly friends.

Better rules are needed, and new legislation, drafted by the Nassau County district attorney's office and introduced by Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) and Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) provides it.

Current animal cruelty laws are so antiquated they address issues most of us don't understand today. It is, for instance, illegal to make horses run on plank roads without justification, or sell six or fewer rabbits younger than 2 months old.

Worse, some of the laws are so broad as to be meaningless. It is, for instance, difficult to enforce Section 363, which says anyone who places any article or substance in any public place which could be injurious to any animal in any way is guilty of a crime. Dogs can die if they eat too much chocolate. Is it illegal to have or place chocolate in all public places?

The proposed legislation would clarify what treatment of animals is illegal and which penalties are called for. It toughens existing penalties for repeat offenders, and raises serious cases of animal fighting and animal cruelty to class D felonies, allowing penalties of up to seven years in prison. The legislation also creates four new charges: animal abduction in the first through third degrees and endangering the welfare of an animal.

Our sense of how pets, wild animals, and even livestock that will eventually be eaten deserve to be treated has changed with the times. Our laws should, too. It's a serious issue, and it needs to be overseen via clear laws that provide appropriate penalties for abusers.

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