2011-05-18 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
A good idea just got better. Last fall the Suffolk County Legislature voted to create the nation’s first registry of convicted animal abusers. This database will become a reality next week. Now its sponsor, Legislator Jon Cooper, added more punch to pet protection with a second law requiring pet stores, breeders and animal shelters to check the photo ID of prospective owners against the registry before allowing animals to be purchased or adopted. The second measure passed unanimously and awaits the County Executive’s signature.
Recidivism is rampant in both animal cruelty and hoarder cases. In addition, psychologists and cruelty investigators often see that those capable of torturing defenseless animals, later graduate to humans, another reason to monitor the whereabouts of known pet tormenters.
The animal abuser registry is similar to Megan’s Law, aimed at halting child abusers from harming additional victims. Legislator Cooper says: “Our goal is to prevent future instances of animal abuse in Suffolk County.” Realizing a one county target area is not broad enough Cooper “hopes our Suffolk laws will be the impetus for an animal abuser registry on the state level.” Following Suffolk’s lead, similar bills have been introduced in Albany. It heartens Cooper that other innovative ideas, such as his bans on both hand-held cell phones and the deadly diet supplement ephedra, served as models for laws in other states. He wants the animal abuser registry to be “copy-catted” throughout the US too.
How the registry will work: Suffolk County Police contracting with Suffolk SPCA will maintain the list of names of people residing in Suffolk County convicted of various animal abuse crimes including failure to provide proper sustenance (that means convicted hoarders too) on and after May 23, which is 180 days after the signed law was filed. The list will have public accessibility and be updated when necessary. Those county residents convicted must pay $50 to register within five days of their release from jail, or if not incarcerated, from the date of their judgment. They stay on the registry five years, unless they are convicted again, whereas the time starts over.
How the prospective owner checking will work: Any person seeking to buy or adopt an animal in Suffolk must present photo ID to the shelter or pet dealer prior to getting the pet. (Feeder animals, typically mice, crickets, or mealworms are excluded.) Each shelter, public or private, breeder (defined as someone breeding nine or more pets per year), or pet store must make sure the “customer” is not on the online registry or face fines of $500 for the first offense; $1,000 for the second.
Yes, we are making progress. It’s a starting point. Hopefully, the registry will soon encompass all 50 states. On LI, most municipal shelters and private rescues are already screening applicants via their own criteria. They turn adopters down when it is in the best interest of the pet. Town shelters require photo ID for most transactions. (In contrast, pet stores and irresponsible breeders see dollar signs rather than the search for a responsible home as their top priority.) These registry rules are additional screening tools. Legislator Cooper should be commended for his creativity and compassion, but the new laws are only part of the abuse arsenal. We have miles to go before winning the war against animal cruelty and neglect.
I’m part of the jaded rescue contingent. Some individuals who should never have a pet (nor be allowed to reclaim their wounded one at town shelters) are yet to reach the legal radar screen. We see so much cruelty arrive at the shelter door. Because we can’t depend on humane law enforcement to side with silent animals unable to dial a phone or scream as loud as certain negligent owners demanding them back, the cycle of abuse will continue. A recent case sickens all who knew the dog returned.
Too bad we can’t grandfather in past monsters. Notori- ous convictions predate May 23, including Sharon Mc- Donough the Selden mother who forced her six daughters to watch while she tortured and killed dogs and cats, later buried in their yard. It was reported that a pet store provided some of the puppies. Others may have been stolen from neighbors. Her children are in foster care, yet McDonough is no longer in jail and not on the registry. What keeps her from repeating this unthinkable behavior?
Any shortcomings are not the fault of the new legislation but inherent in our legal system, one that enables perpetrators to prolong court cases and plead down to nothing. Penalties are not harsh enough. Most animal abusers get a slap on the wrist, if that. The problem is pervasive. A handler starved 17 Afghan Hounds in their crates last year. Three died; the rest rescued in the nick of time. The DA office in Indiana assured us that they would go for the maximum, but the woman was sentenced to probation when she tearfully told the judge she was too depressed to get out of bed. Her husband was aware of what was going on.
Labor Day 2011 Michael and Marilyn Gladstein, the dermatologist/ wife duo, were arrested for hoarding over 115 dogs in their West Hills home. (See Record “Pets” 9/15/10). More dogs were dead in the sink. Many fought to get a mouthful of water after the fire department responded to the alarm set off by the stench of urine. When booked the doctor and missus were each charged with one felony cruelty count for mistreating their pony. No charges in regard to the dogs, mostly Pom mixes. Their next court date is not until August 11. Innocent until proven guilty, but right now what stops them from buying a pair of innocent Pomeranians and starting anew?
In essence, it is difficult to convict anyone of animal cruelty. Speaking of copy-cat ideas- Nassau DA Kathleen Rice set up a county animal abuse hotline in March 2010. In a year’s time, 700 calls were investigated and 16 cases prosecuted. Investigations can uncover related crimes like domestic violence and gang activity. Previously, the Nassau office averaged two animal prosecutions a year. We also need an animal abuse hotline manned by the Suffolk County DA, plus more cruelty authority delegated to town shelter personnel. Couple these with Legislator Cooper’s animal abuse registry, and Suffolk could pack a mightier wallop against animal abuse.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter 9631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: After “Bailey” #94040 was fished out of canal by a Good Samaritan, relatives realized her elderly owner was no longer able to care for her. This sweet Beagle/Shepherd represented the shelter at an adoption event last week. “Honey” #94048 is a lovable but thin red Husky, found as a stray.
Male: “Jacque” #94033-Jack Russell tied to a dumpster; young yellow Lab #94050; “Tigger” & “Corran” great orange cats sharing a lobby cage.
Female: “Holly” in C-4, extroverted 1 year old calico, FeLV/FIV negative; Lab/Pit pup #94044; “Lydia, Trixie, Mona Lisa”- lovable Pit types.
Reminder: Last Hope free rabies vaccine clinic will be at Babylon Shelter, this Sat. 5/21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.