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Nassau DA-sponsored conference focuses on saving animals, charging abusers

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas holds Buddy

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas holds Buddy at the first Long Island Animal Crimes Conference held Monday in Bethpage. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Chico, a 7-year-old mixed breed, was repeatedly attacked by a larger, more aggressive dog in his Hempstead home. An injury to Chico’s front leg went untreated for so long it needed to be amputated.

Buddy became an unwilling social media star when members of a Hofstra fraternity filmed themselves spraying beer from a keg into the mouth of the 10-month-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

And Bella, a then 11-week-old goldendoodle, was allegedly beaten nearly to death — she was choked and found with broken ribs and a broken forearm — by a Mineola man accused of killing two other puppies, prosecutors said. The puppy’s owners have been charged with animal torture and aggravated animal cruelty.

On Monday, the three pooches, all healthy and recovered from their injuries, took center stage at the inaugural Long Island Animal Crimes conference in Bethpage hosted by the Nassau District Attorney’s Office.

The DA’s Animal Crimes Unit has become a model in the field by teaming prosecutors and investigators with the SPCA, veterinarians, shelters and advocates to rescue mistreated animals and charge their abusers.

“I am going to make sure that people understand that you can’t hurt animals, and if you do, you’ll have us to deal with,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said as she held Buddy. “And before, we could not say that as strongly and with one voice.”

Since 2015, the Animal Crimes Unit has invested more than $250,000 in asset forfeiture dollars — a first-of-its-kind program — to rehabilitate injured animals and find them new homes.

“Animals are unlike guns or drugs, which cost no money to store,” said Jed Painter, head of the unit. “With animals, we don’t seize ones that cost nothing. We seize animals that have been stabbed eight times; those that have been starved and with lots of diseases.”

Since 2014, animal abuse arrests in Nassau have skyrocketed 170 percent, from 10 in 2014 to 27 in 2018, according to data from the DA’s office. Prosecutors have a 99 percent conviction rate in animal abuse cases during the past half decade, the data shows.

In the past, Painter said, many law enforcement agencies considered animal crimes as an afterthought.

“We want to put these crimes in the mainstream,” he said.

Locking up animal abusers is critical for public safety because the torture of pets can often be a precursor to domestic abuse and other types of violent crimes, said Gary Rogers, president of the Nassau County SPCA.

“You see it from Jeffrey Dahmer to the Parkland and Columbine shooters,” Rogers said. “You deaden your senses by killing a smaller animal; then the larger animal before you decide to kill a human.”

Monday’s daylong conference attracted more than 100 industry experts from across the state, including prosecutors, law enforcement officials, veterinarians, animal control officers and shelter personnel. Topics included the collection of evidence, necropsy procedures, large-scale animal seizures and coordinating local resources.

Jessica Johnson, director of animal crimes at the Humane Society of the United States, said animal cruelty cases can be difficult to prosecute because of a dearth of eyewitnesses and victims that lack the ability to communicate. The onus, she said, is on law enforcement to meticulously track evidence, secure proper warrants and provide a wealth of physical evidence for prosecutors to use at trial.

“Photos can make or break a case,” Johnson said as images of battered animals appeared on a projection screen. “Take close-up images of wounds and injuries. They are really hard to argue against.”

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