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.

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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.

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.

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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.

NY Farm Bureau Pledges More Support For Those Who Enforce Animal Cruelty Laws

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A few years ago, the New York Farm Bureau — a volunteer organization dedicated to serving and strengthening agriculture in the state — teamed up with the New York State Humane Association. Together, they convinced state legislators and the governor that a new law created a to help provide law enforcement training in existing animal cruelty laws would be worthwhile.

The law mandates that the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets work with the Municipal Police Training Council and the Division of Criminal Justice Services to:

  • develop training,
  • create materials and
  • provide information regarding animal cruelty statutes for New York’s police agencies, officers and district attorneys.

“Crimes against animals are a significant public safety, health and quality of life concern for communities across New York State” said Susan McDonough of the New York State Humane Association. “Improved access and understanding of the state’s cruelty statutes will enhance the efforts of officers and ensure better outcomes for animals and people.”

Unfortunately,  nothing has transpired due to a lack of funding in the state budget since then. The New York Farm Bureau now says that is not acceptable.

A top priority

Back in January, the organization issued its list of legislative priorities for 2019. Among other things, the organization pledged to support training for authorities and prosecutors that investigate animal cruelty laws included in the current statute in Agriculture and Markets Law.

“Farmers take animal care seriously and believe law enforcement could be better equipped to deal with abuse cases by receiving adequate training on Agriculture and Markets Law,” said Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau’s Director of Public Policy.

It makes sense. These laws are complicated.

New York’s animal cruelty laws

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

To begin with, look how the state defines animal cruelty. In Article 26, Section 353 of the Agriculture and Markets law, it is classified as activity in which someone:

  • overdrives, overloads, tortures or cruelly beats or unjustifiably injures, maims, mutilates or kills any animal, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to himself or to another; or
  • deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, food or drink, or neglects or refuses to furnish it such sustenance or drink; or
  • causes, procures or permits any animal to be overdriven, overloaded, tortured, cruelly beaten, or unjustifiably injured, maimed, mutilated or killed, or to be deprived of necessary food or drink; or
  • wilfully sets on foot, instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty.

Then there are the laws pertaining to aggravated animal cruelty, and related offenses set forth in Section 353-b through Section 353-f.

Additional resources

Of course, authorities and lawyers aren’t completely without guidance when it comes to this topic. Here are just a few of the available resources.

The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals makes comprehensive information available online. This information is specifically tailored for prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges.

The New York State Humane Association also makes How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in NY State – A Manual of Procedures available online. This guide covers numerous topics of interest and use to authorities including:

  • how to receive and investigate a complaint,
  • all NYS laws pertinent to animals – along with explanations,
  • pertinent case law
  • basic animal care standards

It also includes:

  • appendices including forms that can be used in cruelty investigations,
  • pamphlets on various animal care topics,
  • relevant articles

The bottom line is that knowledge is power — especially when it comes to fighting animal cruelty.

Declawing cats could soon be banned in New York

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If this bill passes, it will be the best law ever. Or one of them, at any rate

According to published reports, the New York lawmakers are currently mulling proposed rules that would make it illegal to declaw cats there. If it passes, New York would be the first state to ban the activity.

It’s not a slam dunk…

Unfortunately, passage of the bill is not guaranteed. For some reason that defies belief state legislators haven’t supported the measure in the past.

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

And now, a group classified as New York’s “largest veterinary association” is opposing it. This group reportedly claims that declawing should still be made available as a last resort when cats “won’t stop scratching furniture or people.”

With all due respect, I think that’s a bunch of (expletive deleted). There are plenty of ways to teach cats not to scratch without removing their claws.

And quite frankly, there are worse things a cat can do than scratching.

Trust me, I had two cats before Eli. They were both females, and they both were known to scratch from time to time. Eli bites when he’s mad. And it hurts. So it’s a good thing I love him unconditionally.

But there is hope

But back to the issue at hand. Declawing is cruel. Those who oppose the practice say it requires painful surgery that can do permanent damage. It also deprives a cat of the tools it needs in order to hunt, climb and defend itself.

The good news is that the New York measure is finally gaining some traction. Veterinarians in favor of the ban reportedly lobbied for it in Albany. The bill’s sponsor also says “more lawmakers are signing on.”

Although there is no precedence for a statewide ban, the practice is prohibited in some California cities. It has also been disallowed in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

What do you think. Should declawing be banned? Share your opinion in the comment section below.

Oswego food pantry caters to pets when owners can’t

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Now this is a good idea.

Not that’s it’s entirely unique — I have read about programs like this that have been implemented elsewhere before.

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

But I’ve got to hand it to the city of Oswego, N.Y., for coming up with a program that promotes responsible pet ownership and gives pet owners — and their charges — help when it’s needed most.

As reported on, the city has opened a food pantry that will “supply food and other necessities for pets when owners fall on difficult financial times.”

What sets this pet pantry apart?

Like other “pet pantries” I’ve read about, Oswego’s will rely on donations in order to help struggling pet owners. What sets it apart, in my opinion, is that it won’t be open to everyone. In order to qualify for assistance, pet owners must meet certain criteria.

To be eligible, the animal’s owner “must license their pet, including spaying or neutering of the animals.” The stipulation”will help better control the population of dogs and cats within the city,” according to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow.

A ‘win-win situation’ for Oswego residents and their pets

Oswego Animal Control Officer Caroline Anderson, who also spoke to the media, agreed.

“We receive calls every week from people who can no longer keep their pets due to financial hardship,” she said. “If we can help companion animals remain in their homes where they are loved while also battling animal overpopulation, it’s a win-win.”

She added that companion animals that have been spayed or neutered are less likely to be surrendered because they have behavioral issues. They are also less like to stray and tend to be less aggressive than animals who haven’t been spayed or neutered.

The city first came up with programs that encouraged residents to spay, neuter and license their pets in 2016. Prior to creating the initiative, the average number of dog licenses issued by the city was less than 300 per year. In 2016 it issued more than 1,000.

If you live in Oswego…

If you live in Oswego and are struggling to provide for your pet, you can visit the pantry from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, or make an appointment. Be sure to bring proof of need and proof that your pet is licensed, and spayed or neutered. Proof of a current rabies vaccine is also required.

Since the pet pantry will be stocked with donations, residents are also encouraged to drop off supplies,  including donated pet food, kitty litter, treats and flea/tick and heart worm preventives.

For more information, 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.

This New York law is for the dogs (and cats)

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Technically it’s not a law… yet. At this point, it’s still a proposed law, or more accurately a bill.

Some say that it has little chance of being passed. I say it will be a horrible injustice if it doesn’t.

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

The legislation that I’m referring to is called “Kirby and Quigley’s Law,” and it would punish anyone who hurts or kills a companion animal during the commission of another crime. Punishment upon conviction would be a $5,000 fine and two years behind bars in addition to incarceration for the original crime.

‘Poster pups’

According to media accounts, Denise Krohn, whose dogs were shot and killed when someone burglarized her home last year, “hopes to gain some measure of justice by making her pets the poster pups” for the bill.

“It’s just not right,” Krohn told the New York media. “I don’t care about the TVs and other stuff. What hurts us every day is losing our dogs.”

What makes matters worse for  Krohn is knowing that the perpetrator(s) will likely go unpunished for killing her dogs as things now stand. As the police working the case reportedly told her, “if someone is caught, they would likely get 25 years in jail for burglary, but no additional punishment for killing the dogs.”

On the other hand, if “Kirby and Quigley’s Law” does pass, experts that spoke with the New York media said it would become “one of the toughest animal-cruelty charges” in the United States.

Jim Tedisco is the New York state senator who introduced the legislation in 2012 — long before the burglars that targeted Krohn’s home killed her dogs. His impetus for doing so was another case, in which drug smugglers used dogs to move their product. Although the perpetrators in that case were ultimately convicted on drug charges, they were never charged with animal cruelty.

“Attorneys said it had nothing to do with cruelty, they were just smuggling heroin,” Tedisco told News 4 New York. “What this bill does is make it clear that if you harm a companion animal while committing another crime, you face an additional penalty.”

A reluctant advocate

Passage of the bill is hardly a slam dunk. Critics, including State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, say it is unnecessary. Existing cruelty laws are sufficient, they maintain.

Krohn begs to differ. She’s reportedly written numerous letters to state lawmakers — and  the retired teacher vows to keep it up until “Kirby and Quigley’s Law” becomes a reality.

“I never thought of myself as an animal activist,” she said. “I just want to do what’s right.”

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.”

Animal law roundup

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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

At a time when most Americans view companion animals as family members, authorities are cracking down on people engaged in any unscrupulous activities that are harmful to dogs and cats.

Just recently, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced sanctions against a former Westchester County pet shop owner. Schneiderman’s office has been investigating the man, Richard Doyle, for more than a year and determined that he “sold animals that had serious medical issues, despite claims of being healthy.”

As a result, Doyle can no longer sell pets in New York state. Furthermore, he must surrender all licenses associated with the sales of animals and pay $20,000 in fines. According to media accounts, customers that bought sick animals from Doyle will get most of the money.

“Disturbing cases like these reaffirm my commitment to encouraging those in search of a new pet to adopt from a local shelter, rather than purchasing an animal. This gives an animal in need a home, and gives the consumer the peace of mind that they are receiving a healthy pet,” Schneiderman said.

The Connecticut connection

In an unrelated case, Doyle pleaded guilty to five counts of animal cruelty in Connecticut. The charges reportedly stemmed from arrests at his pet store in Danbury, where he was accused of “of illegally performing surgery on and failing to provide proper care for ill animals.”

As a result, he is also banned from having “any affiliation” with pet stores or animal rescue shelters there for three years.

More than 70 dogs confiscated from NJ pet store

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the SPCA confiscated more than 70 dogs from an East Hanover pet store where the owner “allegedly failed to provide records and veterinary care for the dogs.”

The owner, identified as Vincent LoSacco in published reports, is now in trouble with the town health department in addition to being investigated by the state attorney general’s office.

In addition to the East Hanover shop, authorities have reportedly closed two of LoSacco’s pet stores in New Jersey and one in New York.

As reports, one of the New Jersey locations closed after LoSacco was charged with 267 counts of animal cruelty late last February. The other “had also been the target of investigations and complaints.”

More than 100 puppies rescued after wild ride

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If ever there was a heartbreaking and heartwarming story, this is it.

According to published reports, police rescued more than 100 puppies — described as “varying breed types (including many toy and smaller breeds)” — after the truck carrying them crashed in upstate New York.

“The driver, Emily Woodrum of Missouri, was delivering 103 puppies of varying breeds to local pet stores on Tuesday when she lost control of the truck and crashed in the town of Avoca, New York,” NBC News reports.

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

The speeding vehicle — reportedly bound for “local pet stores” — ended up in a ditch, where it overturned. Luckily, only five puppies were hurt. Of those, only two were hurt badly enough to require extensive treatment.

That’s the good news. Now here’s the sad part.

The Finger Lakes SPCA, which responded to the scene and cared for more than 80 puppies after the Jan. 24 wreck, suspects that they came from a puppy mill. With no proof, however, the animals’ fate is uncertain.

“No health issues that would indicate an animal cruelty concern could be ascertained by veterinary medical professionals who examined the puppies. We are not aware of any other specific laws that would have allowed the transfer of ownership of these puppies to our agency nor were we directed by law enforcement to retain the animals,” the organization said in an update posted on its website.

“While we too abhor puppy mills, we know of no means to legally confiscate animals only because there is a strong likelihood that a puppy came from one.”

With no other recourse, the Finger Lakes SPCA said it returned all but four of the puppies to the transportation company the next day. The company did cover costs stemming from the puppies’ medical care and shelter, the organization said.

As of last Wednesday, the Finger Lakes SPCA said it was pursuing a “formal release of ownership for these animals.”