CT Veterinarian Facing Animal Cruelty Charges Returns To Work

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Not too long ago, I wrote a very disturbing post about a Connecticut veterinarian charged with animal cruelty and third-degree larceny in connection with his “treatment” of a dog named Monster.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

I’ve been away since then, and just returned to work today. While going through my google alerts, this morning,  I learned that the veterinarian in question has also returned to work while his case winds its way through the courts. And while I understand that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and everyone is entitled to due process, the thought of this man being allowed near another animal, much less being allowed to “treat” another animal disgusts me.

To recap, Dr. Dr. Amr Wasfi of Black Rock Animal Hospital in Bridgeport is accused of:

  • Lying about Monster’s condition
  • Performing unnecessary surgery
  • Failing to provide Monster with adequate food and water
  • Keeping Monster in the hospital for a prolonged period
  • Refusing to let Monster’s owner see the dog while Monster was at the hospital
  • Charging Monster’s owner for the unnecessary surgery

Wasfi is also accused of abusing a kitten that was in his care. According to someone who allegedly witnessed the incident, Wasfi “hit a kitten that was under anesthesia so hard that the kitten’s intestines popped out of an incision.” The same witness said Wasfi was “agitated” and that he “threw surgical tools around the room.”

The witness was reportedly fired from the animal hospital after confiding to another employee that she planned to report the matter.

The initial court appearance

Wasfi was arrested last month, but posted a $10,000 bond and was released. Then, on May 8, he reportedly entered no plea to the charges. During Wasfi’s appearance that day, Superior Court Judge William Holden also granted Wasfi’s lawyer’s request to continue the matter until June 7 so the attorney could have more to time to “examine the evidence.”

Since then, Bridgeport police have warned the public not to take their pets to Black Rock Animal Hospital.

“We just want the public to be aware that if they were considering bringing their animals here, just to understand some of the criminal charges we uncovered here,” Bridgeport Police Capt. Brian Fitzgerald told the media.

Scary details about Wasfi’s past emerge

Published reports have also provided some valuable — and frightening — insight into Wasfi’s past. Specifically, they show that this is not the first time he’s been in trouble. Apparently, he had his license revoked in 1996, when the Connecticut Board of Veterinary Medicine found him guilty of “unskillfulness toward an animal.” His license was reinstated in 2003 contingent upon the successful completion of a five-year probationary period.He reportedly completed his probation on April 30, 2008.

Fast-forward to this year when, as the press reports, Connecticut authorities spent months investigating Wasfi prior to his arrest. The investigation stemmed from numerous complaints “about pets whose conditions worsened instead of improving after being treated by the veterinarian.”

Now, maybe some of you don’t think it’s fair to rush to judgment. Maybe some of you don’t believe in convicting someone in the court of public opinion without knowing all of the facts. Maybe some of you actually believe in second chances. Sometimes, I do, too. But not in this case.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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Staggering Allegations Made Against CT Veterinarian

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In the United States of America, all new veterinarians take the following oath:

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.”

But apparently some of them don’t take it seriously.

According to a recent news report, Dr. Amr Wasfi, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, veterinarian, was supposed to appear in court on Wednesday. He is facing animal cruelty and third-degree larceny charges based on his “treatment” of a dog named Monster.

The accusations are detailed in an arrest warrant and shared on an NBC affiliate’s website. As set forth in the warrant, Monster’s owner took him to the vet when he noticed Monster limping. That was on February 14, and the initial diagnosis was a sprained knee. Apparently, Wasfi prescribed some pain medicine and sent the dog home.

But when Monster hadn’t improved a week later, his owner brought him back to Black Rock Animal Hospital, where Wasfi again assessed the dog’s condition. This time, the diagnosis was a fractured pelvis. Monster’s owner learned that surgical intervention would be required, and Monster would have to stay at the hospital for five days (until March 7).

A stunning revelation

As NBC’s Connecticut affiliate reports, Monster’s owner told the authorities he contacted the vet that day, only to be told his dog couldn’t come home — yet. Instead, he was allegedly told, Monster had to “stay a few more days for monitoring.” Apparently, Monster’s repeated requests to see his dog after that were denied.  According to the warrant, he finally contacted Animal Control and retrieved Monster on March 25.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

According to the warrant, Monster’s owner then discovered that his dog, who 63 pounds prior to his stay at Black Rock Animal Hospital, had lost 17 pounds.

Monster’s owner then took him to the Emergency Room at Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine. That’s when he learned that Monster never had a fracture and he never needed operation, which included putting a screw in Monster’s pelvis. One of the veterinarians that treated Monster at Central Hospital For Veterinary Medicine also told police that Monster was being treated for “refeeding syndrome” and dehydration. Police then learned that the treatment is warranted when “an animal is without proper food or water for at least 10 days.”

To make matters even worse, Monster’s owner also told police Wasfi charged him more than $3,000 for Monster’s operation.

An emerging pattern?

As NBC Connecticut also reports, that wasn’t the only complaint lodged against Wasfi. A former Black Rock employee apparently reported that she “witnessed Wasfi hit a kitten that was under anesthesia so hard that the kittens intestines popped out of an incision.” As documented in the warrant, the same complainant  also said that Wasfi was “agitated” and threw surgical tools around the room.”

The warrant also indicates she confided in a co-worker and said she planned to file a complaint. She also told police she planned to resign the next day, but when she showed up for work the employee with whom she shared her concerns greeted her at the door, in gave her a box of her belongings, and informed her she had been fired.

At this point, Wasfi also faces an uncertain fate. In addition to the criminal charges he is currently facing, he will likely face disciplinary action by the Connecticut State Board of Veterinary Medicine.

Sec. 20-202(2) of Chapter 384 of the Connecticut General Statutes specifically states that the board can discipline a licensed veterinarian when there is proof that: “the holder of such license or certificate has become unfit or incompetent or has been guilty of cruelty, unskillfulness or negligence towards animals and birds.”

Sec. 20-202(3) of CGS Chapter 384 also authorizes the board to take disciplinary action based upon: “conviction of the violation of any of the provisions of this chapter by any court of criminal jurisdiction.”

However, the board cannot take any disciplinary action as long as the appeal of such a conviction is pending, or if the conviction is overturned on appeal.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Exploitation In The Service Dog Industry And The People Who Pay The Price

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This is a story about broken promises, broken dreams and a broken system. This is also a story about a little girl with a broken heart.

As the Associated Press reports, Sobie Cummings was just nine when a psychiatrist suggested that a service dog might help her cope with intense emotional anguish and loneliness.

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Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Eager to help their little girl, Sobie’s parents agreed. And in the summer of 2017, they thought they finally found the perfect person to provide the perfect dog. That person was Mark Mathis, the then-owner of the Apex, N.C.-based kennel, Ry-Con Service Dogs. He owned a kennel fairly close to home, he is the parent of an autistic child, and he had stellar credentials — or so the Cummings thought.

They believed the claims in the online brochure. At the time, they had no reason not to believe that Mathis was “certified as a NC state approved service dog trainer with a specialty in autism service dogs for children” in 2013, as the brochure stated. And at the time, they had no reason not to believe Mathis when he quickly told them he had “the perfect dog” for their autistic daughter, even though he hadn’t met Sobie.

At the time, they had no way to know that based on her behavior, the dog — a Briard named Okami — never should have been sold to anyone, much less to  a family with a special needs child and two older dogs at home.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), service dogs must be “handler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to do specific tasks. They should not be distracted by the public, as they should focus solely on their owner when working.”

The AKC also notes that safe and successful service dogs must have a specific temperament and abilities. They must be: calm but friendly; alert but not reactive; willing to be touched by anyone, including strangers; be willing to please; have the tendency to follow you around; be socialized to numerous situations and environments*; and have the ability to learn quickly and retain information. (*Emphasis added.)

On a webpage devoted to the breed, the AKC notes that Briards have some of these traits. Specifically, they are “confident, smart and faithful.” Because they are a herding breed, Briards may also have “a protective eye toward family (especially kids, whom they regard as their flock), and wariness with outsiders.”

Although their intelligence and athletic ability allows them to “excel at almost any canine role or sport,” the AKC notes that their independence may make them difficult to train. The AKC also says that socialization “should begin early and continue throughout the Briard’s life.”

But as the Associated Press reports, Okami “pulled at her leash and refused to lie down” while on  “training trips to local stores.” As the AP also reports, Okami “growled and lunged at people and defecated in a hallway” at a mall.

A dream becomes a nightmare

Still, Okami “graduated” in May 2018, and the Cummings bought her for more than $14,000. But when they finally brought her home on Mother’s Day weekend, nearly a year after they first contacted Mathis, their dream became a nightmare.

With no apparent provocation, the Cummings claim, Okami immediately attacked one of the family’s older dogs. And to make matters even worse, they say, Sobie saw the whole thing.

With no other choice, the Cummings sent Okami back to Mathis. And that’s when they made another horrible discovery. Not only were the claims about Mathis’ state certification in North Carolina untrue, but there is no such thing as a  state certification for service dog trainers anywhere in the U.S.

To add insult to injury, Mathis allegedly refused to refund the Cummings’ money, prompting a lawsuit. And then last November, Mathis reportedly notified clients by email that he was closing the kennel because  it was “no longer sustainable.” The next day, the AP reports,  he filed for bankruptcy protection.

North Carolina authorities launched an investigation based on a slew of ensuing complaints. And the allegations are damning. According to state Attorney General Josh Stein, Mathis “falsified medical records and breeder information.” Stein also alleges that Mathis “may have ‘siphoned’ as much as $240,000 of the nonprofit’s money for personal expenses.”

Mathis, a biotech engineer who co-founded Ry-Con Service Dogs with his wife after a service dog helped their autistic son, has emphatically denied the allegations. He also contends that his clients have broken their contracts, fallen behind on payments and misrepresented “conditions in their homes.”

Only time will tell what the future holds for Mathis. In the meantime, all the Cummings can do is try to help their daughter recover from the PTSD she developed after witnessing Okami’s violent attack on their pet.

“Her life is not what it was,” her mother told the AP. “The light’s not back in her eyes yet.”

Apparently, Okami may also be facing an uncertain fate.  According to the AP, Mathis sold her to another family — with a similar outcome. That family has also filed a complaint.

Time to set some boundaries

Although there is a growing demand for service dogs to help people with autism and PTSD, experts say there is little to no meaningful regulation or oversight for the training of such service dogs.  As it now stands, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t even mandate that service dogs are professionally trained.

Until effective rules are implemented, families like the Cummings will be susceptible to incompetence… or worse.

“It is a lawless area. The Wild West,” David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University and editor of its Animal Legal and Historical Center website, told the AP.

That needs to change.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Connecticut Puppy Scam Alert Issued

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How much is that little doggy in the window?

In the past couple of years, I’ve done numerous posts on new initiatives and laws mandating that pet stores sell only dogs and cats sourced from shelters. In general, they address two concerns. The first is to alleviate the burden on crowded animal shelters across the country. The second is to crack down on so-called puppy mills. The latter is accomplished by preventing pet shops from sourcing animals from unscrupulous breeders.

Adopt-A-Dog volunteer with dog for adoption.
As seen at Puttin’ On The Dog, 2017. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Although these measures benefit from widespread public approval, they are not universally accepted. Critics have argued that preventing the sale of pure-bred animals at reputable pet shops will make the public more susceptible to scams.

“We’ve been sending home between 60 to 80 puppies a month, and we’ve been doing it for 25 years. Most of the people who come to us are looking for pure-bred dogs, which many local rescues don’t offer,” Sean Silverman, the owner of Puppy Love in Danbury, Connecticut, told the media earlier this year.

“If stores like ours are unable to provide the type of puppies that people want, then some 15 to 20 thousand people here in Connecticut will go on the internet, get a dog with zero regulations, and have it shipped, but will not get any guarantees, it’s just putting these people in a bad situations.”

(Internet) buyer beware…

Apparently that’s sort of what happened to a Connecticut couple who recently shared their experience with the press.

A few months after the death of their 13-year-old pug Penelope in October, 2018, the couple “spotted some adorable little pugs for sale online.” Then, after visiting the website and initiating a conversation with the purported breeders by text message, the couple agreed to purchase one female and one male puppy for $650 each.

The cost raised some concerns, according to published reports.

“I questioned as to why they were so inexpensive. He said it was because it was Texas and no one’s willing to pay that much money for pugs in the South as compared to the Northeast,” Amy Beaulieu told the media.

Her concern grew when the alleged breeders directed them to send a $400 deposit through their United bank cash app.

“Eventually, he called one time and I said I have some concerns about the texting and this sounds a little bit too good to be true. And he assured me, it’s fine we’re a family business. Everything’s safe,” said Beaulieu.

According to Beaulieu, that was the last contact she had with the alleged breeder.

“We were pretty angry about it and felt a little bit naïve too,” she said.

With no other recourse, Beaulieu made a police report, filed a claim with her bank and reported the matter to the Better Business Bureau.

Now here’s some good advice

According to the BBB,  the vast majority of sponsored pet ads may be generated by people with less than honest motives. Consequently, the consumer watchdog says the Internet “may not always be the best way to purchase a pet.”

Citing reports made through its “Scam Tracker,” the agency also says that since the beginning of 2019, Connecticut consumers claim to have lost nearly $6,000 in online puppy scams.

The BBB serving Connecticut has this advice to help protect consumers when it comes to choosing their next pet:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Do an online search of the picture of the pet you are looking to purchase. If the same photograph is featured on multiple websites,  it may be a scam.
  • Do not honor any request for payment by money order/wire service. Using a credit card allows you to dispute the charges. Be wary of any seller who demands payment through other methods; and if you don’t feel comfortable, trust your instincts.
  • Be an educated consumer. Lookup the costs of puppies for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deep discount, it is probably too good to be true.
  • Don’t take the seller’s claims on face value. Visit bbb.org to verify an online breeder/seller’s reputation. Don’t be afraid to  ask the breeder for references and contact past customers.
  • Consider adopting or buying locally. Visit your local shelter and see if rescuing a dog (or cat) may be a viable option. This way, you can meet the dog or cat in need of a forever home.

At least this story has happy ending

Today, Beaulieu has two new pups — 4-month-old Milo and 12-week-old Apple. She bought them through the American Kennel Club.

And while there are lots of lessons to be learned from her story, she is not alone. You can learn more about how to avoid pet scams here.


Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Along Came A Spider… And Caused A New York Car Crash

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Time for another confession. I hate spiders. Hate! With a capital “h.” I’m not necessarily afraid of them. I just don’t like them. I don’t care how big they are. I don’t care whether they’re venomous or not. I don’t care how beneficial they are to the environment. I’m just not a fan.

Apparently I’m not alone.

Bringing a whole new meaning to distracted driving

According to numerous news reports, a spider caused a recent car crash in Cairo, New York. Or, more accurately, the driver’s reaction to finding a spider in her car caused the crash.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The Town of Cairo Police Department detailed the April 10 incident on its Facebook page, saying:

“After investigating today’s crash on Silver Spur Road we feel it necessary to bring up a contributing factor that is not covered too often. It is believed that the operator of the vehicle noticed a SPIDER in the drivers area with her as she was driving. The operator panicked and crashed suffering a leg injury from the crash. We know that it is easier for some drivers than others but PLEASE, try to teach new drivers and yourselves to overcome the fear and pull over to a safe place. Lives depend on it.”

Police did not say whether the arachnid was injured in the crash, nor did they say whether  the New York state DMV has any plans to require “spider desensitization” for new drivers (sarcasm fully intended).

The fear is real…

Arachnophobia is generally defined as “an abnormal and persistent fear of spiders.” It affects approximately 30 percent of Americans and ranks third in terms of phobias affecting people around the world. Only the fear of death and the fear of public speaking are more common.

So why the universal fear and loathing? There are several theories. Some say it can be traced back to ancient times, when many civilizations viewed them as a source of water and food contamination. Others say it stems from the once widely held belief that spiders caused the deadly outbreak of bubonic plague in the 14th century. Another, more recent theory is that  it’s simply a matter of perception; people who suffer from arachnophobia are unable to accept that only a tiny percentage of the 63,000 known spider species pose a serious threat to people.

A (very) short list of harmful spiders found in the United States

When most Americans think about scary spiders, three come to mind. These are the black widow, the brown recluse and the hobo spider.

The black widow

In all, there are approximately 30 different types of black widow spider. Of these, three are commonly found in the United States. These are the Northern widow, the Southern widow and the Western widow. As you can tell by their names, these spiders are fairly widespread. It is also widely regarded as “one of the most dangerous spiders to humans,” and is known to be “the most venomous spider in North America.”

Fortunately, only a fully grown female’s venom packs enough of a punch to affect people. You can recognize (and  therefore avoid) a female black widow by her shiny black body and distinctive red markings resembling an hour-glass that are found on her belly.

With sufficient provocation, an adult female black widow can inflict a venomous bite that can cause the following symptoms in people:

  • chest pain
  • stomach pain
  • anxiety
  • painful, cramping muscles
  • numbness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • light sensitivity
  • headache
  • heavy sweating and salivating

However, severe reactions and fatalities are not as common as we may fear. As statistics provided by the National Poison Data Center indicate,  approximately 1,800 Americans were bitten by black widows in 2013. More than 1,000 of them did not seek medical treatment. Of the 800 who did,  there were only 14 “significant” cases, and there were no fatalities.

This is not to say you should ignore any symptoms you are experiencing if you have been or believe you have been bitten by a female black widow — or any other spider for that matter. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

The brown recluse

Talk about  a spider with a bad reputation. These arachnids, which are universally feared due to the potentially devastating effects of their venom, are most commonly found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.

Although they do have distinctive markings that resemble violins, experts say the best way to identify a brown recluse is by its eyes. This is because the brown recluse has only six eyes, as opposed to eight. Although the shade of brown varies, these spiders have uniform coloration on their bellies. They are approximately  three-eighths of an inch long and about three-sixteenths of an inch wide (about 1 centimeter long and half a centimeter wide). Females tend to be larger, but males have longer legs.

Like most spiders, the brown recluse will only bite if it is accidentally disturbed or deliberately provoked. Because its venom can pack a wallop, the National Institutes of Health advise anyone who is bitten to seek medical treatment immediately.

Experts stress that symptoms of a brown recluse bite will vary based on the person’s sensitivity to venom and the amount of venom injected. In people with heightened sensitivity or in cases where a lot of venom is injected, a blister may form at the bite site. The blister may burst and become an ugly, open, gangrenous wound. Recovery from such a severe bite can take weeks, and sometimes months.

In less severe cases, symptoms may  include itching, chills, fever, nausea, sweating and generally feeling lousy.

The hobo spider

Although they have a fearsome appearance, these spiders may be less of a threat to people than once thought. Originally from Europe, they are now found in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah).

Hobo spiders have long legs, a brown body, and a grayish abdomen with yellowish markings. On average, they are  1/4 to 1/2 inch long with a leg span of approximately 1-2 inches. Even so, proper identification is tricky because they resemble so many other species found in the region.

Although they are sometimes called an “aggressive house spider,” hobo spiders don’t bite people unless they are actively hunting or deliberately or inadvertently “trapped” against someone’s skin.

Symptoms of a hobo spider bite include redness and pain at the bite site and involuntary muscle movement lasting for several hours. However, experts say there is no longer any reason to believe that hobo spider venom causes the same type of tissue damage as brown recluse venom.

I’m still not convinced…

That’s all well and good. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ll just keep my distance from anything that looks scary and has more than two eyes. And hopefully they’ll stay away from me.

Tragic Discovery Made In Virginia Beach Cat Hoarding Case

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This truly breaks my heart. There’s no other way to put it.

Last month, authorities that tried to execute a search warrant in connection with alleged cat hoarding at a woman’s Virginia Beach home made a horrific discovery. According to published reports, they found more than 100 dead cats in her freezer.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

“Our hearts go out to the animals inside the home,” Meghan Conti, a Virginia Beach Animal Control official, told the media. “But they also go out to the resident. This isn’t just your everyday owner — this is someone who really has some concerning problems.”

Authorities, who were forced to wear masks to combat the overwhelming odor of cat urine, also found more than 20 living cats at the residence. However, there is no guarantee that they can be re-homed. Their fate is uncertain because the surviving felines seemed “wild and untamed,” leading Conti to believe that they may be feral.

Media accounts also indicate that this was not the owner’s first brush with the law. Four years ago, she was convicted of illegally entering an animal control office to release cats. The media did not provide any insight into her punishment — if any — in that case.

Based on published reports, it is also unknown if she will be prosecuted in connection with this case.

Virginia animal care and cruelty laws

However, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(A), which regulates the care of companion animals by their owners, stipulates that each owner must provide adequate food, water and clean shelter. Owners must also make sure that their pets get adequate exercise, sufficient care, treatment, and transportation; appropriate veterinary care; and sufficient space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight.

Under Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503(B), failure to comply with any or all of these provisions is a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $250. A second or subsequent violation for failing to provide adequate food, water, clean shelter or veterinary care is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by up to six months in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. A second or subsequent violation for failing to ensure that their pet gets sufficient exercise; provide sufficient space in the primary enclosure; or to provide sufficient care, treatment and transportation is a Class 3 misdemeanor. As such, it is punishable upon conviction by a maximum fine of $500.

Furthermore, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6570(A), pertaining to animal cruelty stipulates in pertinent part that someone is guilty of the offense if: they deprived any animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment; or if they deliberately inflict “inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation” on any animal. The offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction by up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $2,500, or both.

It is easy to pass judgment and almost impossible to understand…

For most of us, it is easy to pass judgment based on shocking news accounts of animal hoarding. And it is almost impossible to understand why anyone engages in this activity.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), animal hoarding is generally defined as, “the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse.”

The ADAA also notes that several factors contribute to animal hoarding. These typically include:

  • poor decision-making and organizational skills
  • intense emotions,
  • strong attachment to animals
  • the overwhelming desire to “save” animals

“All hoarding leads to a sad outcome, but the saddest of all is the animals who die in an environment of neglect, filth, and stressful overcrowding as innocent prisoners of well-intentioned but misguided love,” the ADAA says. “These animals are innocent victims, enduring tragic lives with people who are equally trapped.”

Statistics provided by the ADAA indicate that:

  • 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities each year.
  • Hoarding affects at least 250,000 animals each year.
  • The vast majority of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
  • Most animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are single, widowed, or divorced women (although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females).
  • Up to 40 percent of people who hoard things also hoard animals.
  • All hoarders relapse without treatment

Iowa Takes Significant Step Towards Animal Cruelty Crackdown

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Happy Monday, everyone. In the interest of starting the workweek on a positive note, I wanted to share some good news. So here goes…

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Last week, Iowa legislators took an important step towards strengthening the state’s animal cruelty laws. Specifically, the House unanimously passed a bill calling for tougher sanctions for people convicted of abusing, neglecting, torturing or abandoning animals.

As it now stands the bill defines animal abuse as  failure to provide an animal with access to food, clean water, clean shelter, veterinary care and adequate grooming.

The punishment for a first offense would be two years in prison. A second offense would be a felony carrying a maximum punishment of five years in prison.

Animal torture is defined as the intentional infliction of harm that results in prolonged suffering or death. The maximum sentence upon conviction would also be five years in prison.

Finally, the punishment upon conviction for animal abandonment would be 30 days in jail; a year in jail if the animal is hurt; or two years if it seriously hurt.

The bill, which excludes some wild animals and farm animals is now headed to the state Senate.

Why is this so important?

For years, critics have regarded Iowa as one of the worst puppy mill states.  Today, Iowa reportedly has “thousands of dogs in more than 200 large-scale breeding operations.”

In fact, news about the passage of the bill came just two days after the Associated Press reported that he owner of a “northern Iowa dog breeding operation” had been charged with 17 counts of animal neglect.

The AP cites Worth County court records indicating that authorities allegedly found Samoyed dogs in “inhumane conditions” when officials  on Nov. 12 and on other occasions.

The records also indicated 17 dogs had “fur matted by feces, skin conditions leading to fur loss, painful wounds, intestinal parasites and other maladies.” Furthermore, they detailed the conditions in the kennels, where the dogs allegedly went without food and their only source of water were containers packed with ice.

According to the AP, the accused owner has “denied any wrongdoing and told officials she didn’t think the dogs needed additional care.”

On top of which, Iowa ranked 48th in a 2018 Animal Protection Laws Ranking Report issued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). Only Mississippi and Kentucky fared worse in the report, which was based on 19 aspects of animal protection.

Something to aim for

In the same report, Illinois, Oregon, Maine, Colorado and Massachusetts ranked as the top five states for animal protection. Remarkably, Illinois claimed the number one ranking for the 11th consecutive year. Oregon, Maine and Colorado also kept their top rankings.

“Every year, we see more states enacting broader legal protections for animals,” ALDF’s Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “We have a long way to go until animals are fully protected under the legal system as they deserve, especially in the lowest-ranked states.…But as this year’s Ranking Report shows, step by step we as a nation are improving how the law treats animals.”

 

Montana May Implement Crackdown On Fake Service Animals

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Now it’s Montana’s turn.

According to a recent account, the Treasure State may soon join a growing list of states that have cracked down on the use of fake service animals.

With an 85-15 vote earlier this week, Montana’s House of Representatives endorsed a bill establishing punishments for people who pass their pets off as service animals. As it now stands, HB 439 would make  the misrepresentation of service animals a misdemeanor offense. Anyone convicted would face:

  • A $50 fine for a first offense
  • A fine ranging from $75 to $200 for a second offense
  • A fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 for a third/subsequent offense

HB 439 also stipulates that anyone convicted of the offense may be required to perform community service for an organization that advocates on the behalf of persons with disabilities.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Within this context, it is important to note that these punishments could only be imposed if:

  • the offender had previously received a written warning regarding the misrepresentation of his or her pet as a service animal; and
  • continued to represent the pet as a service animal
  • in order to gain any rights or privileges afforded to a service animal.

Misrepresentation of a service animal

HB 439 defines misrepresentation of a service animal as activity in which someone:

  • equips the animal with a leash, collar, cape, harness, backpack, or sign identifying it as a service animal; or
  • says or provides written material claiming that the animal is a service animal;
  • in order to access certain places with the animal; and
  • it is determined that the animal is not properly trained to perform a service animal’s functions.

Legally, a determination regarding lack of sufficient training necessary for a service animal could be based on: whether or not the dog is housebroken; whether it is under the handler’s control; and the handler’s ability or inability to bring the dog under control.

Additional provisions

If the bill becomes law, establishments that don’t provide access to pets would have to post signs indicating that:

  1. They do allow service animals.
  2.  They are legally allowed to ask the owner if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task the animal is trained to perform.

Furthermore, establishments may not be able to make complaints against suspected offenders unless they have posted a public notice indicating that they reserve the right to do so regarding the misrepresentation of service animals.

Finally, animals that are not under their handler’s control or are not housebroken may be asked to leave in accordance with the bill, which is similar to language in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pros and cons

People in favor of and opposed to the measure voiced their opinions at a House Judiciary Committee Meeting on March 11.

William Austin, a disabled veteran who has a service dog, spoke first. Because people misrepresent their pets as service animals in order to take them into certain establishments, people who have legitimate need of service dogs are challenged, he said. In large part this is because the “fake” service animals are disruptive and don’t behave well, he added.

But Austin said an even greater concern is the safety of real service dogs and their handlers. Specifically, he shared a story about a “fake” service dog that attacked a real service dog belonging to a friend.

“There needs to be something done to stop folks who deliberately falsify their animals as service animals,” Austin concluded.

Cat Fanatic Proves You Can Fight City Hall

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Here’s a question for you. Do you think the government (town, city, county or state) should be allowed to regulate how many pets you have?

Personally I have mixed feelings on the topic. On one hand I think it’s a great way to prevent hoarding — as long as the laws are actually enforced before things get out of hand. I also think it’s a good way to encourage responsible pet ownership — even if it can’t guarantee that people will treat their pets properly.

And then there’s the rebellious part of me. This is the part that says, “Wait just a minute. How dare you tell me how many pets I can have?”

Fighting city hall — and winning

Apparently a Utah man feels the same way. As recently reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, a West Valley City resident has two black cats and wanted to get another one. But when he went to the local animal shelter to get one, he learned that he couldn’t because of a city regulation limiting the number of cats and dogs residents could have to two per household.

Furr-911 rescues Hurricane Harvey kittens.
Hurricane Harvey kittens make an appearance at Puttin’ on the Dog festival, courtesy of FURR-911. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

When he learned the only way to change that was to convince the city to change the rules, he took the challenge seriously. And after six months of lobbying, his persistence finally paid off.

Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously passed an amended ordinance that “would allow for pet owners to apply for a permit to have up to four cats or dogs.” However, the restriction pertaining to the total number of pets is unchanged, meaning that residents still can’t have four cats and four dogs. An exception to the limit for kittens and puppies up to 4-months old is also unchanged.

A matter of personal preference

As it stands, I have had cats since I was 10. But the only time I had more than one was when my ex and I were married. And I’ll be honest. Having two cats in a small apartment was an adventure, especially since my cat was the alpha.

After I got divorced, Heals came home with me. She also moved to Virginia with me, and live there for three years before she died of cancer in 2007. I was still living in Virginia when I got Eli in 2008 and I’ve had him ever since. Sometimes I think about getting another one — but it wouldn’t be fair to him — or to me, for that matter.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

For one thing, Eli is a “pit bull in a cat costume.” He is loyal, affectionate, and super-smart. But because he was abused before I adopted him, he is very easily triggered and acts accordingly. You’d think that he would mellow out as he gets older, especially since he’s been in a stable, loving environment for so long. As it turns out, that’s wishful thinking. Finding ways to address his redirected aggression is an ongoing process.

Secondly, having a cat is expensive. Or should I say, having this cat is expensive. There’s food, and cat litter, and vet bills. Oh, the vet bills. And because Eli is such a handful, I have to take him to the vet to have his claws clipped every three months. At $23 and change for each trimming, even that adds up.

Not to mention that I’m busy and I travel. So the bottom line for me is that — as much as I love cats — I don’t think I’ll ever have more than one at a time again.

How about you? Do you have pets? How many? How many is “too many?” I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment.

There Is No Punishment Harsh Enough In Kitten Drowning Case

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

As many of you know I was a police reporter for more than 20 years. In my career I covered everything from the aftermath of 9/11 in the New York City suburbs to homicides, courthouse shootings and airplane crashes. So I’ve seen a lot of nasty stuff. To this day, I can’t forget those things. I never will.

And to this day, nothing makes my blood boil more than an animal cruelty case. As far as I’m concerned, there is no punishment harsh enough for anyone who deliberately hurts or kills an animal. I mean think about it. If someone is sick and twisted enough to hurt or kill an animal, they probably won’t think twice about hurting or killing a human being.

Alleged kitten killer arrested

So if what I recently about Junsong Zhang, 21, of Queens, New York, is actually true, they should just lock him up and get rid of the key. Now.

According to published reports, Zhang killed two kittens on January 22, 2019. He allegedly did so by putting them in a cage, putting the cage in the bathtub, turning on the tap, and leaving for nearly an hour.

As Zhang reportedly told authorities, the animals were “lying in the water and not breathing.” So he allegedly put them in a plastic bag and took them to the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

In a criminal complaint cited by the New York Daily News, a forensic veterinarian said both kittens were “healthy, and that one kitten had torn nails on its right front paw, left front paw and right back paw.”

A postmortem assessment confirmed that the kittens had drowned. They were just seven months old.

New York City prosecutors told the media that Zhang intended to “cause extreme physical pain” to the animals. As a result, he was arrested earlier this month and charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty.

Zhang was reportedly “released under supervision” and ordered to surrender his passport pending future court appearances.

Possible punishment upon conviction

Under Section 353-a of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law, someone is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she, “intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty.” In this context, aggravated cruelty is defined as conduct that: “(i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain;  or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner.”

Aggravated cruelty to animals is a felony in New York. The maximum punishment upon conviction is two years in prison.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s just not good enough.