The Nassau County SPCA Wednesday pledged to send animal lovers to sit at every animal-cruelty court proceeding, saying it was the "last straw" when a man in a dogfighting case got probation instead of jail last November.
The "Court Advocacy Program" starts Thursday with SPCA head Bob Sowers and others watching what's expected to be a short conference in the case of a couple and a veterinary aide accused of illegally amputating the leg of a pit bull puppy and leaving the end of the stump tissue exposed.
That case is being brought by the state attorney general's office, which Sowers praised for its cooperation and aggressive pursuit of the case.
"We want the crimes taken seriously," Sowers said. "If people are going to abuse animals, what's going to stop them from beating the kids, the wife, the partner?"
Although judges, plea bargaining, prosecutors' wishes and other circumstances affect sentencing, the SPCA head blamed the abusers' "slap on the wrist" on former District Attorney Kathleen Rice, sworn into Congress on Tuesday, and her staff.
Rice had made animal welfare a statement during her tenure, starting the animal crimes unit and the Council on Animal Protection & Safety, whose members include town shelters and are to include veterinarians and other stakeholders.
The SPCA was not invited to join, and the nonprofit and DA's office have not had the best relationship.
District attorney's office spokesman Paul Leonard said prosecutors had a 95 percent conviction rate on the 61 animal-abuse cases decided in the past five years. Of those, he said, 60 percent of the defendants were convicted on the top counts.
"The Nassau DA's office is a nationally and locally-recognized leader in prosecuting animal crimes, with a record of results in securing top-count convictions in dozens of cases," Leonard said in a statement.
But Sowers said he was outraged over the case of Hector Hernandez of West Hempstead, where authorities rescued eight scarred pit bulls in a "wall of cages" in his shed.
Hernandez was first charged with nine counts of prohibition of animal fighting and two of failure to provide proper sustenance, each carrying up to 1 year in jail.
In November, he got 3 years' probation, fines and a five-year ban on pet ownership after pleading guilty to charges of two animal cruelty misdemeanors and two animal fighting misdemeanors.
Hernandez was first charged with nine counts of prohibition of animal fighting and two of failure to provide proper sustenance. He had faced up to 1 year in jail on each count and $15,000 per dog in fines. All were misdemeanors.
"That's a disgrace," Sowers said.
Leonard said it was unfair to take one case in isolation and noted that Anthony Reddick of Hempstead in September got 1 to 3 years in prison on dogfighting-related charges after 13 pit bulls died in a garage fire.
He said the office will work with anyone "to keep animals safe and to hold criminals accountable for their actions with tough prosecutions seeking top counts and strong sentences."