Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time to get tough on animal abuse

By Donn Esmonde, The Buffalo News

There is a lot wrong with this picture, and I am not just talking about what was on YouTube.
David Roman was arrested last week and charged with animal cruelty for pummeling his sister’s dog, Diamond, on a Black Rock street. The stomach-turning beating of the pit bull mix—who did not resist—was covertly recorded by a passer-by, who briefly posted it online.
The recording led police to Roman’s door. He is in the Erie County Holding Center until a Monday court hearing. Even if convicted, that may—sadly—be all the jail time he gets.
I saw the recording of the dog—who is recovering—being kicked, then repeatedly punched as it lay on its back. I think the sicko who did it (Roman reportedly claims it wasn’t him) should be locked up for more than a long weekend. But the state’s animal cruelty laws are weak, and judges seldom bring down the hammer. Even a recording of the beating of a leashed dog may not be enough to slam the cell door.
Something is wrong, and state lawmakers need to fix it.
The heartbreaking thing about the recording is, no matter how hard he tries, the abuser cannot beat the trust out of the dog.
“He kept saying [on the recording], ‘Come here, Diamond,’ and the dog kept coming back,” the SPCA’s Barbara Carr said. “That’s how we got [Roman]. Once we had the dog’s name, we went into the neighborhood and knocked on doors.”
Unfortunately, the punishment in these cases seldom fits the crime. Unless the pet is killed or maimed, abuse is not a felony. Even when there is a corpse or broken bones, it usually is prosecuted as a lesser-charge misdemeanor. To get a felony conviction, prosecutors have the tough job of proving the abuser wanted to badly hurt the animal. Unless the victim is Mr. Ed, convictions are tough to come by.
It is beyond ridiculous—yet it is the ice upon which many an abuser skates out of court.
The other problem, to my mind, is judges who do not take animal abuse seriously. Look around. Aurora’s Beth Hoskins is accused of hoarding thoroughbreds. It has been fifteen months since the SPCA seized 73 horses on her farm. The SPCA’s care bill exceeds a half-million dollars. Yet the case remains stalled in Judge Joseph Glownia’s civil court, and in Town Judge Joseph Marky’s criminal court.
Recall the tortured rationale by which Buffalo Judge Phillip Marshall last year turned loose Gary Korkuc, who was accused of marinating his cat in his car trunk. Nor can we forget the gentle hand West Seneca Judge Richard Scott extended two years ago to Fred Grasso, Lackawanna’s poor excuse for an animal control officer. Grasso claimed self-defense after shooting dead a mother cat and two “attack kittens” in an apartment building basement.
The beat goes on—as do the beatings.
The law and the courts have yet to catch up to the grim reality of animal abuse. I think there is an analogy to how domestic violence cases were dealt with 25 years ago, and the tougher stance that cops, courts and prosecutors take today. It took a while, but eyes were opened. Unfortunately, the legal view of animal cruelty remains blind.
Frank Sedita III, Erie County’s district attorney, thinks that animal abuse should be treated like the crime it is. It has for a century been part of Agriculture and Marketing law—not criminal law.
“Place [animal abuse] under the penal law, so everyone understands it is a crime,” Sedita said. “Give it different degrees of punishment, depending on the seriousness of the offense—like we do with assault. “Then the legal community will take it seriously.”
It sounds like a plan. If Diamond could talk, I think she would agree.

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