There Is No Punishment Harsh Enough In Kitten Drowning Case

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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.

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For some New Yorkers a dog or cat just won’t do

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For some reason, some New Yorkers insist on taking pet ownership to another level. A dog or cat just won’t do. Gerbils, hamsters, ferrets or birds don’t cut it, either.

These New Yorkers only go for unusual pets — whether it’s illegal to have them or not. And in most cases, it is.

Life in the concrete jungle

According to a recent New York Post article, the city has responded to nearly 400 exotic animal complaints since January 2016.

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

Most of the complaints (more than 150) were about people keeping roosters in the concrete jungle. There were 36 complaints about snakes and 30 about turtles.

In one case, a Queens man came to the city’s attention after his neighbors reported that he had roosters.

The man, Mark Singh, denies he did anything wrong, however.

“You feed chickens and they give you eggs. So why not keep chickens?” he wondered. “ One of my neighbors nursed baby raccoons for two years — and they have rabies,” Singh told the Post.

In another case, city health inspectors responded to a report of a Staten Island man who was allegedly keeping venomous snakes as pets. The accused, Gregory Johnson, said he had a permit to keep them.

“The city’s Health Code forbids keeping any animals that are “naturally inclined and capable of inflicting harm” on humans. Rooster keepers face fines of $1,000,” the Post reported.

Exotic pet complaints — by the numbers

According to the Post, the number of reports about illegal pets made to a New York City tip line made from January 1, 2016 to date is roughly the same as those made during the same time period for 2015-2016.

However, there have been more complaints in the Bronx and Queens, and fewer complaints in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

In addition to banning potentially harmful animals, the city’s Health Code identifies illegal pets as “any native or exotic wildlife whose possession or sale is prohibited because they are designated as protected or endangered pursuant to any federal, state or local law, regulation, or rule.”

Any animal classified as an illegal pet by the New York Health Department “cannot be sold, given, received, kept, harbored or exhibited in New York City” unless they are kept in an approved facility.

Some of the animals that can be kept as pets include dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, domesticated rabbits and fowl or small birds such as parakeets, parrots, canaries and finches. However, it is only legal to keep these animals as pets as long as “possession of the animal is not otherwise prohibited by law, including federal, state and local laws regulating domestic animals and livestock or protecting wildlife and endangered species.”

For more information about illegal pets in New York city, click here.

Who says cops don’t have a sense of humor?

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A pig dressed like a cop. Now there’s something you don’t see every day. Even in New York City.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a recent sighting of one generated a lot of attention. It even made the news.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As News 4 reported,  the little pig spotted by the Apple Store in Soho “belonged to a young woman,” and its outfit “seemed fit for purpose, with utility pockets and identifying badge.”

Apparently some bystanders — including some of New York’s Finest, — enjoyed meeting the little guy.

Witnesses told the media that  the NYPD officers “were amused by the curly-tailed member of the force.”

“They were all laughing,” one witness said.

“There were lots of people entertained by this little piggy.”

The letter of the law

It’s a good thing the officers had a sense of humor. After all,  having a pet pig is against the law in New York City. It’s also illegal to keep sheep, goats and “most farm animals” as pets in Gotham. City regulations also prohibit the ownership of:

  • Venomous spiders including but not limited to tarantulas and black widows
  • Various monkeys and apes
  • Large/predatory birds
  • Various large and venomous snakes including vipers
  • Various types of lizards
  • Various reptiles and amphibians
  • Wild/predatory dogs and cats
  • Squirrels, racoon and bats
  • Venomous insects

In other words, you can’t keep a wild, exotic, or potentially dangerous animal as a pet in New York City. And with good reason.

Some people just don’t get it…

But some New Yorkers just don’t get it. Or if they do, they don’t care.

According to published reports, the city’s Health Department issued nearly 300 tickets to offenders in one five-year period.

Administrative judges preside in cases when New Yorkers accused of keeping banned pets choose to fight the tickets. And many do. But losing can be costly, with fines ranging from a few hundred bucks to a few grand.

Of course, we all have choices. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Federal appeals court sides with New York City on pet law

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By siding with New York City regarding a 2015 law that restricts pet sales, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals took a big step towards protecting dogs, cats and their owners.

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

According to recent reports, the law opposed by the New York Pet Welfare Association “said pet shops could only obtain dogs and cats from federally licensed breeders with clean recent animal welfare records, and could not sell dogs and cats at least eight weeks old and weighing two pounds unless they were sterilized.”

Proponents say the law promotes the sale of healthy dogs and cats. By stipulating that pets are spayed or neutered before they are sold, it helps ensure that they don’t add to the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the city by having puppies and kittens.

Two for two

The New York Pet Welfare Association (NYPWA) — which represents those most affected by the measure — has voiced strenuous objections, however. Specifically, it claims the 2015 law “unconstitutionally burdened commerce by favoring in-state animal rescuers and shelters over out-of-state breeders, and was pre-empted by state veterinary medicine laws.”

At the end of a 29-page document in which he summarized and analyzed the arguments made by both parties, Judge Edward Korman found the New York Pet Welfare Association’s claims lack merit.

“The Sourcing and Spay/Neuter Laws address problems of significant
importance to the City and its residents. It appears that the City has enforced them for more than a year, with no apparent ill effects,” Korman wrote. “Because the challenged laws are not preempted by either state or federal law, and do not offend the Commerce Clause, we Affirm the district court’s order dismissing NYPWA’s complaint.”

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York also sided with the city in a ruling issued two years ago.

Undaunted, the NYPWA is now considering another appeal. In the meantime, as a spokesman for New York City’s Law Department told the New York media, proponents are savoring their second victory.

“We are pleased that the court upheld this common sense legislation, which helps ensure that cats and dogs are humanely sourced and that consumers can make informed choices when bringing pets into their homes,” Nick Paolucci told Reuters.

How a New York story about a big bunch of bull ended badly

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If there’s one thing the NYPD is used to it is dealing with a whole bunch of bull. But this was different.

According to media accounts, a “rogue bull” that recently escaped from a slaughterhouse in Queens, N.Y., led cops on a “wild chase” that ended badly — for the bull.

Footage shot from a TV news helicopter showed just how wily and determined the bull was. Just when it seemed the police had him trapped, the bull managed to elude them. At one point, he dodged an officer who had “jumped atop an emergency response vehicle.” At other times, the bull showed its prowess by “ducking under yellow caution tape” as it “galloped down the middle of a street and onto a sidewalk.”

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I suppose it would be a stretch to call it a “police-involved shooting.” But the animal, who evaded law enforcement and civilians during its mad romp through the Jamaica and South Ozone Park neighborhoods, reportedly had several tranquilizer darts in its flank by the time the chase ended.

The bull was alive when the pursuit ended in someone’s back yard. However, he died while he was being transported to an unknown destination. The cause of death was “not clear,” according to published reports.

The urban jungle

This wasn’t the first time an animal has given the NYPD a run for its money.

“Cows escaped slaughterhouses at least twice last year, in January and April,” according to media accounts. But I’m happy to report that one of those cases had a happy ending. The escapee got a second chance at life when it ended up at an animal shelter owned by comedian John Stewart.

“In December, a white-tailed buck who was granted a last-minute reprieve from euthanasia after a days-long back and forth between the city and state died in Harlem,”  an NBC-TV affiliate reported. “The one-antlered buck died while state officials from the Department of Environmental Conservation were arranging relocation. The city blamed the state for its death; the state blamed the city.”

Leave it to a bunch of politicians to “pass the buck.”

Oh, rats! Feral cats now on the job in NYC

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Ah, New York City. Gotham. The Big Apple. It is globally known for its imposing yet beautiful skyline, its culture, its nightlife, its tourist attractions, its sports teams, its subway system, the collective “attitude” of its residents — and its rats.

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

Yes, you heard me. Rats. Big, mean, scary rats — well, according to urban legends at any rate. There are millions of them. In fact, a 2014 estimate published in a New York Times article indicated that New York City’s rat population totaled roughly 2 million — give or take a few. Although that article was supposed to debunk the myth that there’s a rat for every New Yorker (which would put the total at approximately 8 million), New York City still ranks as the worst “rat city” in the world.

But never fear! According to published reports, feral cats are coming to the rescue.

Yes, I’m serious.

As the website nymag.com reports in an Oct. 23 article, “Volunteers with the NYC Feral Cat Initiative are working to repurpose some of the city’s population of as many as half-a-million stray cats as feline special forces in the war against the rats.”

Citing accounts from other media outlets, nymag.com explains that the group, “is working to trap wild cat colonies throughout New York, spay or neuter the animals, and when the cats can’t be adopted or returned to the place they were trapped, the group will try to relocate them to areas in need of rodent control.”

So far, it seems to be working. One group of feral cats “assigned” to the loading dock area at the Jacob Javits convention center a few years back has reportedly been highly effective. Today four cats from that group remain on the job. The rest found new homes with some of the center’s employees or with visitors.

The program isn’t unique to New York. Similar efforts are ongoing in large cities elsewhere in the United States.

Historically, shopkeepers throughout the world have also kept cats to control rodents — a practice that continues in New York City today. And we all know about “barn cats” that help fend off rodents in rural areas. What you might not know is that in World War I, cats took to the trenches and ships to hunt rodents.

So the bottom line is that when it comes to putting feral cats “to work” in New York City, no one is reinventing the wheel. But I still think the idea is genius… and so does Eli.

A lawyer accused of bank robbery — now that’s rich

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

So did you hear the one about the lawyer who (allegedly) robbed a bank?

Are you waiting for the punchline?

There isn’t one.

It really happened. Allegedly.

According to published accounts, Meighan Marie McSherry, 46, of Manhattan, has been charged in connection with a recent bank robbery in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is also the suspect in another one, which happened in New York City last week.

I’m not too sure which Wells Fargo branch in Greenwich McSherry allegedly robbed. I seriously doubt it was the one across the street from my house. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident did happen there.

For one thing, there’s no shortage of drama in this neighborhood. Secondly, from what I understand, police caught her on West Putnam Avenue. I don’t know exactly where on West Putnam Avenue, but the beginning (or end) of that particular road isn’t too far from my house.

But anyway, that’s all beside the point. The point is that an attorney who, by all accounts was once very successful, is now facing felony charges. Specifically, Greenwich police charged her with first-degree robbery and second-degree robbery.

Authorities said McSherry left the bank with an untold sum after she passed a note “demanding money and claiming that she had a weapon.” No one actually saw any sort of weapon during the alleged commission of the crime, but police reportedly found other evidence linking McSherry to the incident when they apprehended her.

So we know what McSherry is accused of doing — but lots of questions remain unanswered. The most puzzling of those is why.

Perhaps we’ll learn more as the case wends its way through the court system.  McSherry is reportedly scheduled to make a preliminary appearance in state Superior Court in Stamford in a few weeks.

In the meantime, there will be plenty of time to come up with some really bad jokes. I mean, I’ve heard of an attorney robbing someone blind, but this is ridiculous…

Cue rim shot!

Stealing someone’s pet bunny rabbit — now that’s just wrong

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Just when you thought crime couldn’t get any worse in New York City, some scumbags come along and steal someone’s pet bunny rabbit. Now that’s just wrong.

I read about the incident on usnews.com a couple of days ago. But since the Associated Press doesn’t want its material rewritten or redistributed), I won’t go into any details here. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to click the link. If you don’t want to read the story yourself, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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

But that’s really neither here nor there. The bottom line is the story made my blood boil. I mean, come on. Really? What the hell is wrong with people? It’s bad enough to steal someone’s stuff, but taking their pet is disgusting, cruel, and downright despicable. The people who did it obviously have no shame, that much is for sure.

Moral outrage aside, the incident does raise an interesting question about how we value our pets.

Assuming the owner(s) filed a police report, they would have to provide a monetary value for any and all stolen property — including the bunny. (Yes, legally, our pets are also considered personal property.) To the police, that’s very important. The value of the stolen property determines how the incident is classified — specifically whether it’s categorized as a misdemeanor (petty theft/petty larceny) or a felony.

Yes, it’s cold. But legally, that’s just the way it is.

So how much is a pet bunny worth? Or any pet, for that matter? Do you put what you paid for your pet? What if you got it for free? When you calculate its value, do you include veterinary costs, the amount spent on pet food, pet toys, and other accessories? If you have and show a purebred dog or cat, do you include its winnings? What if you have a purebred dog, cat, rabbit that you are breeding? Do you include income from the past sales of its offspring?

And then there are the emotional aspects. How do you put a monetary value on a companion? A family member? A friend? If your pet is also a therapy animal, how do put a monetary value on the service it provides for others?

The question is almost impossible to answer. Personally, I’ve loved my pets more than life and I’ve spent thousands on them over the years. So far this week alone, I’ve spent more than $200 on Eli’s medicine. His vet visit — including x-rays, blood work and exam — well, let’s just say it was expensive. But more importantly, it’s worth it.

NYPD rookies face the most thankless job in America

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One thought crossed my mind as I read a New York Daily News story about the latest crop of rookies to join the New York Police Department. Why the hell would anyone in his or her right mind want to do that?

Don’t get me wrong. The New York Police Department is the single greatest urban law enforcement agency anywhere on the face of the planet. Most of New York’s Finest are honest, decent, hard-working men and women who risk their lives to keep Gotham safe.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

But that’s not to say the NYPD is a perfect agency. Far from it. There are thousands of cops on the job. So of course there are some bad apples in the bunch. Sadly, the NYPD — like all large urban police departments in the United States and elsewhere — has its share of bullies, racists and thugs. At the moment, it seems that the NYPD also has its share — or perhaps more than its share — of corruption.

To make matters worse, Police Commissioner William J. “Bill” Bratton is so busy kissing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s butt, he doesn’t seem to care. For Bratton to tell more than 1,200 new cops who just graduated from the academy not to ensconce themselves in a “blue cocoon that isolates you from the community” is laughable.

What are they supposed to do, Bill? It’s not as if they’ll get any meaningful support from you or the mayor. All they’ll get from either one of you is a whole bunch of lip service.

Speaking of which, for de Blasio to be  at Madison Square Garden for the graduation, much less say anything to the rookies is beyond laughable. It is disgusting. After all, this is a man who has never hidden his contempt for law enforcement. In 2014, he didn’t exactly encourage New Yorkers to attack cops during anti-police protests — but he didn’t exactly discourage it, either.

Yes, it’s all well and good for de Blasio to tell the rookies about the supportive community that will embrace them. I am sure there are a few law-abiding New Yorkers who do respect and support the NYPD. But in reality,  anti-police rhetoric promoted by de Blasio, President Obama and some so-called “civil rights” groups has stoked hostility across the country.

All of this leads me back to my original question. Why would anyone in their right mind want to join the NYPD?

They’re not doing it for the money, that much is for sure. A rookie cop with the NYPD makes almost $46,000, which does not include overtime. After five-and-a-half years on the force, he or she makes almost $92,000 (not including overtime).

Now that may sound like a lot — and it is a decent amount of money for one person. It’s a great salary for one person who doesn’t have to live in or around New York City, where the cost of living is astronomical.

Having said that, de Blasio is right about one thing. He told the rookies they didn’t make “the easy choice,” but that they made the “noble choice.”

I just hope they don’t regret it.

Teaching cops the art of observation

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Cops and reporters are often at odds. But — as someone once told me — we’re also a lot alike. For one thing — as someone also told me — we’re all students of human behavior.

For cops, the ability to read people is literally a matter of life and death. Besides being key to survival on the street, it is also an essential factor in making arrests and the successful prosecution of the offenders.

As a result, good cops can read body language as easily as most people can read a newspaper. The best can spot a “tell” or visual cue about someone’s true intentions, from a proverbial mile away.

But even the best make mistakes. And even honest mistakes can have disastrous consequences.

Clearing Things Up

Let’s face it. Cops are nothing if not cynical. But given the nature of their work, who could really blame them for seeing the world through jaded eyes? Unless, of course, that cynicism morphs into something worse. Once that happens, there’s no going back.

So law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are now turning to an expert in another field in order to help their officers see things differently. Her name is Amy E. Herman, and The New York Times just did a feature story about her.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The piece, which you can read in print or at nytimes.com, focuses on Herman’s role as an “expert in visual perception” and her work with the New York Police Department. Specifically, the story’s about what happened when Herman took a few of New York’s Finest to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As Herman reportedly told them: “I’ve had people say, ‘I hate art,’ and I say, ‘That’s not relevant. This is not a class about Pollock vs. Picasso. I’m not teaching you about art today; I’m using art as a new set of data, to help you clear the slate and use the skills you use on the job. My goal when you walk out the door is that you’re thinking differently about the job.”

In other words, the “field trip” served as a perfect opportunity for the cops to hone their powers of observation.

As I See It

As far as I’m concerned, this is a fantastic program — and the NYPD’s decision to take advantage of it couldn’t make me happier.

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

You see, I studied art history in high school and college. I loved every single minute of it. Yes, you learn about art and architecture. But that’s not all. You learn how to look at the big picture — and all of the minute details. You learn how to evaluate both, and put everything in its proper context.

To put it another way, you learn critical thinking skills. You learn how to describe what you’ve seen in writing. You’ll find that two people can look at the exact same painting, sculpture or artifact and see something entirely different. But you’ll also learn the importance of seeing something for what it is not what you think it is.