The Efficacy Of U.S. Pet Protection Laws

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As most of you know, I am passionate about two aspects of the law. One is animal law and the other is criminal law. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve done a lot of posts on both topics in this forum.

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

Specifically, I have written about the steps that state lawmakers across the United States have taken to protect companion animals and punish the people who abuse, hoard and neglect them. I must admit, there have been a lot of positive developments since I created this website and started posting here in 2015.

But of course, that’s just my opinion. Let’s see what the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has to say about the implementation and efficacy of animal protection laws across the United States as of 2018.

How the states were judged

Last month, the ALDF released its annual Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report , which includes “the best and worst US states and territories when it comes to animal protection.”

Along with the results, American Veterinarian.com published an article explaining how the states were judged. As reported on that website, the ALDF’s criteria included “19 aspects of animal protection, including 5 new categories: the definition of ‘animal,’ courtroom animal advocate programs, laws that allow individuals to rescue dogs from hot parked cars, civil nuisances abatement, and breed-specific legislation.”

Based on its assessment, the ALDF determined that the U.S. as a whole is making progress — but there is still room for improvement.

“Every year, we see more states enacting broader legal protections for animals,” ALDF’s Executive Director Stephen Wells told American Veterinarian.com. “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.”

How the states ranked

Starting with the good news, the top states were:

  1. Illinois
  2. Oregon
  3. Maine
  4. Colorado
  5. Massachusetts

“With the creation of laws banning the sexual assault of animals, Louisiana (7) and Massachusetts (5) were among the most improved states in 2018. Besides Massachusetts, each of the 5 best states has remained consistent with the previous years,” the American Veterinarian.com article notes.

On the other hand, these were the states that ranked near or at the bottom of the list:

46. New Mexico
47. Wyoming
48. Iowa
49. Mississippi
50. Kentucky

Of particular concern is the lack of progress in Kentucky, which was ranked last for the second consecutive year. Specifically, the ALDF’s 2018 report found that, despite its allowance for increased penalties for repeat abusers and/or animal hoarders, Kentucky has not made any significant changes in the following areas:

  • Adequate definitions or standards of basic care
  • Restriction of animal ownership after a conviction
  • Mandatory forfeiture of animals upon conviction

One of the most obvious deficiencies in Kentucky’s animal safety regulations is its lack in felony penalties for animal cruelty (including neglect, sexual assault, or abandonment). Furthermore, Kentucky is still the only state that precludes veterinarians from reporting suspected animal cruelty, abuse, or fighting.

To make matters worse, there are no statutory provisions for post-conviction restitution or forfeiture, except in cases involving horses. In other words, owners who have harmed their pet don’t have to surrender it — so they really aren’t being held fully accountable for their actions.

Why do we need animal protection laws?

Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t like animals — and to them all of this is pointless. In most cases, they argue that people are more important, and lawmakers should concentrate on addressing “more important issues” like healthcare, gun violence and climate change.

Personally, I have a different perspective — one gained during 21 years covering cops and courts in three states. You see, I have written about my share of violent crime. And I know for a fact that the types of people who commit these acts have no qualms about harming animals to begin with.

So, yes animal protection laws do matter. In fact they matter a lot.

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Federal Lawmakers Seek Animal Cruelty Ban

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“a bipartisan pair of congressional lawmakers from Florida is trying to close a gaping loophole in federal law.”

If there’s one thing I won’t discuss in this forum, it’s politics. For one thing, I hate politics. For another, it’s too risky to discuss politics in the context of work — and since this is my business website — well, the less said, the better.

Having said that, of course there are exceptions to every rule. And the only exception I’ll make to the one I just mentioned is that I’ll continue to write about local, state and federal legislation when our duly elected representatives actually do something constructive. Believe it or not, that actually happens every once in a while.

A case in point

Take a recent New York Times article about federal efforts to crack down on animal abusers by creating a new bill called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act. In it, the author, Niraj Chokshi explains that a “a bipartisan pair of congressional lawmakers from Florida is trying to close a gaping loophole in federal law.”

As it now stands, anyone who documents (records) themselves abusing an animal can be charged under federal law. However, they will not face federal charges for the actual commission of the abuse.

If the new legislation passes, however, offenders convicted of “intentionally crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise seriously harming an animal” would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison. Within this context it is important to note that he bill “includes exceptions for, among other things, hunting, killing animals for food, scientific research, euthanizing animals, husbandry and veterinary care.”

The back story

In addition to providing a detailed explanation of the proposed legislation, Chokshi also explains why it was created.

As Chokshi tells it, the Humane Society of the United States became aware of and started looking into “crush videos,” approximately 20 years ago. In these videos, “animals are tortured or killed, often under a woman’s foot, in the service of a sexual fetish.” Objects or insects are sometimes used instead of animals in some cases, Chokshi adds.

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 any rate, the Humane Society contacted authorities after buying this type of video from someone in California, only to find that there were no adequate remedies under existing laws. Meanwhile, the documentation of animal abuse was increasing because of the Internet.

In search of answers, the then-county district attorney approached former Representative Elton Gallegly. He  in turn introduced a bill banning the production or sale of such videos. With little opposition, it was signed into law in late 1999.

“In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds,” Chokshi reports.

In response, Gallegly created a new version of the bill, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which became the law that the recently introduced bipartisan legislation is designed to supplement.

Is this really necessary?

Currently, there are felony provisions in animal cruelty laws in all 50 states. So while the creation of a federal animal cruelty law may seem unnecessary, proponents say it’s an important step in the right direction.

First, as Sara Amundson, the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the legislative and political arm of the Humane Society told the Times, it would address cases in which abused animals are taken across state lines. Secondly, it would help in cases where there are limited resources.

“It’s oftentimes the scenario where states don’t have the resources or they don’t have the knowledge in a situation to be able to carry these animal cruelty cases to prosecution,” Amundson said.

Finally, proponents hope it will serve as an effective deterrent because it is a known fact that animal abuse can often be a precursor to the commission of violent acts against people.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Is it necessary? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Whatever happened to peaceful protest?

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These are tumultuous times here in the good old USA.

Old Glory. American Flag. Photo taken at Memorial Day Ceremony by Alexandra Bogdanovic
American Flag. As seen at Memorial Day ceremony in Warrenton, Virginia. May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s more bad news about another protest gone amuck. If the media is to be believed (not that I’m saying it should) things are totally out of control.

Here’s just a small sample of recent headlines:

Turkey Issues Travel Warning About U.S., Citing Protests

Protests against Donald Trump’s win turn violent

Violence erupts around U.S. amid large protests over Trump victory

It honestly makes me wonder whatever happened to peaceful protest?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The key words are “peaceably assemble.”

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything about the right to commit random (or deliberate) acts of destruction. So no, arson, vandalism, looting, theft, and related activities are not acceptable forms of protest. Any acts of violence are also unacceptable.

So what on earth is going on?

As far as I can tell, there are three basic reasons why gatherings that begin as peaceful protests turn ugly. The reason is the presence of “professional troublemakers.” These are the people who are paid to hijack peaceful events in order to promote a specific agenda — usually one that has little or nothing to do with the message originally endorsed by event organizers.

Then there are the criminals. These are the people who see peaceful protests as an opportunity to engage in illegal acts. These are the people who happily torch buildings, police cars What’s even more alarming is their propensity for attacking police officers and civilians.

And then there are the lunatics. These are the anarchists and the separatists and God only knows what else. I don’t even know how to describe them.

All I know is when you throw them all together, it is an incredibly toxic mix.

And as an American who fully endorses the right to engage in peaceful protest, I think it’s really sad.

Yes, a man actually threw a puppy off a building

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“Felony penalties for animal cruelty allow prosecutors to better prosecute offenders, because, sadly, most domestic violence cases are only prosecuted at the misdemeanor level.” — Animal Legal Defense Fund

A recent story about a Connecticut man accused of throwing a puppy off a building highlights the need for tougher animal cruelty laws and harsher penalties.

According to published reports, Shaquille McGriff, 24, of New Britain, allegedly threw a seven-month old Chihuahua off a “second-floor porch” in July. McGriff stands accused of “choking a man after an argument with a woman” and then tossing the helpless puppy “two-and-half stories in an arc that spanned about 25 feet.”

The puppy named “Munchkin” survived, but needed extensive medical care to repair a broken leg and internal injuries. Thanks to the Connecticut Humane Society, she received the necessary treatment and is now on the road to recovery. She will be made available for adoption once she is fully healed.

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 the meantime, McGriff is reportedly being held on bond while facing assault and animal cruelty charges. If convicted of the latter, his maximum sentence under Connecticut law would be five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Now I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned, in this case even the maximum penalty doesn’t fit the crime. Personally, I would love it if the law would allow someone far bigger and stronger than Mr. McGriff to pick him up by the scruff of the neck and throw him off a building. Now that would be a fitting punishment for someone as clearly depraved as Mr. McGriff.

Of course, the law would never allow that. But with growing awareness about the links between animal cruelty and the propensity for violence towards people, the need for tougher animal cruelty laws is clear.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, “felony penalties for animal cruelty allow prosecutors to better prosecute offenders, because, sadly, most domestic violence cases are only prosecuted at the misdemeanor level.”

As it now stands, the situation is grim. Citing information from “studies that were published in peer-reviewed professional journals or books,” the Animal Welfare Institute shared the following on its website:

  • Multiple studies have found that from 49% to 71% of battered women reported that their pets had been threatened, harmed, and or killed by their partners.
  • In a national survey, 85% of domestic violence shelters indicated that women coming to their facilities told of incidents of pet abuse.
  • According to a survey, women in domestic violence shelters were 11 times more likely to report animal abuse by their partners than was a comparison group of women not experiencing violence.

An article on the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) website pertaining to the link between animal abuse and violent crime is also disturbing.

“Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46% admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents.[ii] And of seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all involved boys who had previously committed acts of animal cruelty,” the HSUS article states.

I rest my case.

Hate begets hate

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If just half of the information that has surfaced about alleged Dallas cop killer Micah Johnson over the weekend is true — and I do stress if because I would really rather not get sued — one thing is for sure. This was a sick, warped, twisted young man.

“We’re convinced that this suspect had other plans and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to make law enforcement and target law enforcement, make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said in published reports.

Brown also said that recent police shootings that claimed the lives of black men in other parts of the country prompted the rampage that injured seven law enforcement officers and killed five.  When police tried to convince him to surrender after the shooting, the alleged gunman indicated he wanted to kill even more police officers, Brown added.

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

If that’s not twisted, I don’t know what it is.

It’s also sad. Very sad. But in all honesty, it’s not surprising — because that’s what hate does. The ugliness hardens your heart. It messes with your mind. Before you know it, you’ve been consumed by it — and there’s no going back.

Now, some of you may be wondering what a middle-aged, middle class white woman from Connecticut really knows about hate — or discrimination for that matter. Trust me. I know plenty.

If I had a dollar for every misogynist comment I heard while working as a police reporter, I would be independently wealthy. Every time I got upset, one of the guys asked whether it was “that time of the month.” Every time I showed any emotion, one of the guys said it “must be a woman thing.”  I had a strict rule about dating guys in the agencies I covered. I never did it. Ever. But if you think that stopped the “locker room talk,” think again. I guess it’s just the price I paid for being “one of the boys.”

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, I never made as much as my male colleagues. And my male bosses — who were easily intimidated by an assertive woman — routinely treated me like garbage. Not that I put up with it at all.

But yes, I know a few things about gender discrimination.

I know a few things about hate, too. Back in the 1990s, my father received death threats because of his ethnicity (and a Letter to the Editor he sent to The New York Times). Things got so bad we had a wire tap on our phone and FBI agents in our house.

I was the one who answered the phone when one guy called and asked for Dad. When I asked what he wanted, he said something about a furniture order. When I told him (in no uncertain terms) that I had no idea what he was talking about, he told me to “tell that effing Serb his coffin is ready.”

Yes, I remember that phone call to this day. And yes, I know a few things about hate.

I also know we all have choices. Ultimately we determine how we react to discrimination or hate. We can choose violence, or we can find another way to defeat those who are determined to bring us down.

Some of the greatest men in history found another way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi. All three suffered. All three fought for what they believed in. All three advocated for change through nonviolent means.

I’m not exactly a “sit around the camp fire and sing Kumbaya” kind of girl. I don’t agree with everything these men espoused. But I do believe we should all strive to follow their lead.

Because at the end of the day, hate begets hate. Violence breeds more violence. And nothing will change.

Random acts of violence as seen through my cat’s eyes

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I have never laid a hand on my cat in anger. And I never will. But someone once did. That much is for sure.

I adopted Eli from the Fauquier SPCA when he was two. I’ve had him for eight years. So how can I be so sure that someone harmed him when he was little?

In order to understand, you must first understand the family dynamics at play, and my relationship with Eli. Basically, he’s my best friend. He’s my therapy cat. I’m his “number one person.” He counts on me for everything. Food, shelter, and most importantly, a clean litter box. He trusts me and he loves me. When I’m home, he’s never too far away. He sleeps on my bed at night and on any old t-shirt or pair of sweats that still has a trace of my scent during the day.

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

When I lived in Virginia, it was just the two of us. That’s when we really established that wonderful bond. But when I moved back home, Eli had to get used to living with my mom, too. It took a little while for the two of them to get to know each other and establish their own boundaries. Now they get along famously. My mother is officially Eli’s “number two person.”

Having said all of that, it’s been fairly easy to figure out that poor old Eli was either abused or lived in a really dysfunctional environment before I got him. I’ve watched him over the years.  Here’s what I’ve discovered. He is very sensitive. He runs from anything he thinks he can be hit with — even a relatively harmless toy, like shredded cloth tied to the end of a stick. He is very skittish around some people — especially kids and men. He doesn’t like it when someone approaches him too quickly and he hates loud voices.

In fact, angry voices are definitely a trigger. It doesn’t matter if the anger is directed towards him or towards another person. Either way, it makes him really upset. How do I know? For one thing, he meows. And this is a cat who never says anything unless he’s cranky. If he can’t get his point across that way, he resorts to stronger tactics. He uses his teeth. Yes, he bites.

That’s exactly what he did the other day. I was expressing my opinion about the outcome of a soccer game. And because I wasn’t pleased with the result, I was not exactly speaking softly. The next thing I knew, Eli — who I jokingly refer to as a pit bull in a cat costume — was sinking his teeth into my foot. Repeatedly. And since I didn’t have any shoes or socks on, it hurt. A lot.

I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t happy about his behavior. Undaunted, he bit me some more. He even tried to jump onto the bed to get at my hands and arms. I rebuked him again — this time using a sterner voice to let him know he had been a very, very, very bad boy. After a few minutes I walked away and thought about what happened.

“You know,” I told my mother, who was in the room and witnessed the whole episode, “I think he was trying to protect you. I think he thought I was mad at you and that I was going to hurt you. ”

In Brief Legal Writing Services owner Alexandra Bogdanovic's cat, Eli.
Eli under the Christmas Tree. Christmas 2013.

If that was indeed the case, it begs a different question. We all know that abuse directed at our pets takes a huge toll on them. But what happens when they witness humans harming one another? How big a toll does it take on our companion animals when they see us physically or verbally harming each other?

I am sure someone has done some sort of research on this. I’m sure their findings are available in a report somewhere. But to be honest, I haven’t found any information about this issue anywhere online.

The Peacemaker

All of that being stated, I do know how it affected one cat. That was Tiger. She was my first cat — the cat I grew up with. And she was a peacemaker.

Anytime there was a family argument — and trust me, we had plenty — my tiny, Siamese-tabby cross got right in the middle of it. She would literally stand between the warring parties and cry until she got our attention. Once she had it she would end the debate by giving us the dirtiest look. It’s almost is if she were saying, What is wrong with you? Knock it off. Stupid people!

If that’s actually what she was saying, she was right.

 

 

 

Next in NYC – pleas for ‘knife control’

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Those of you who have been following this blog for any length of time know quite a bit about me by now. You know I love animals, I have a cat named Eli, I live near New York City and I volunteer at a local animal shelter. You also know I’m divorced, my ex-husband is transgender and I’ve written a book.

To be honest, that’s probably way more than you want to know. But there’s more.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m also tough on crime and I have a lot of friends who are cops. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m not a big fan of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.

The mayor’s blatant lack of respect for law enforcement is reprehensible. His recent statements about gun control and its impact on crime are misguided at best. Bratton’s comments about the  vicious stabbings and slashings plaguing the City are both insensitive and disturbing.

Taking A Stab At It

In a recent article in the New York Daily News, Bratton happily took credit for a reduction in gun crimes, but seemed unconcerned about the use of other weapons.

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

“Slashings and stabbings aren’t going away,” Bratton told the Daily News. “But I’m confident that over time, (like) just about everything else we focus on around here, they will go down.”

Really? That’s all you have to say, commissioner? Is that supposed to be reassuring? Am I supposed to believe you? Well, here’s a newsflash for you: I don’t. In fact, I think you’re full of it. And that’s putting it mildly.

The fact of the matter is, there have been hundreds of attacks involving the use of knives, razors and similar weapons in New York City so far this year. The unpleasant truth is, it is now happening more than it has in the past. And to add insult to injury, Bratton and de Blasio just don’t seem to give a damn.

Jumping the Gun?

But perhaps I’m being a bit hasty. Maybe I should give the “dynamic duo” the benefit of the doubt. From what I’ve read, there’s now a nifty new plan in place called “Operation Cutting Edge” that’s supposed to combat the problem. Maybe it will actually work. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’ve got an even better idea. Let’s implement a universal  “knife control”  policy in the Big Apple. The mayor and the rest of the “nanny state” can have fun creating and forcing all sorts of new laws on New Yorkers. These would limit the use of sharp objects including but not limited to bread knives, steak knives, butter knives, cake knives and so forth. Of course there would be an outright ban on the possession of switch blades, bowie knives, machetes and other such tools. The possession and use of all but electric razors would also be prohibited.

Of course I’m being sarcastic, but you never know. The way things are going in New York City, it might just come to that.

NYC’s top cop unfazed by random attacks

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

Oh, goody. New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton doesn’t seem to think a recent bunch of random attacks on ordinary New Yorkers is cause for alarm.

I feel so much better now. I’ll hop right on the next commuter train headed into the City. Once I get there, I’ll take the subway all over the place without thinking twice, as if nothing’s happened.

Or not.

I’m old enough to remember how scary Manhattan was in the 1970s and ’80s.  When I was little my parents kept a close eye on me on the train, and one of them — usually my father — had a death-grip on my hand from the minute our feet hit the platform at Grand Central. He didn’t let go until we arrived at our final destination, or until we were on the train heading back to the relative safety of the New York City suburbs.

We walked everywhere in Manhattan back then. Or we took a cab. Riding the bus was rare and taking the subway was unheard of. Dad said it was too dangerous — and I believed him.

I am old enough to appreciate the City’s renaissance. By the turn of the 21st century, it was safe enough — and I felt brave enough — to venture into Manhattan alone. I even camped out in Rockefeller Center one night. Of course I did with a group of friends so we could have the best “seats” for an outdoor concert the next day.

After I moved back to Connecticut from Virginia in 2012, I took advantage of my proximity to the greatest city on the face of the earth. In fact I romped all over it. I even gained the confidence to take the bus and the subway where ever I wanted to go.

Now The New York Times report about  random crimes occurring throughout the Big Apple sends shivers down my spine. According to the Jan. 27 article, at least a dozen people have been targeted by men armed with “knives or razors” in recent months.

In and of itself, news of these incidents — some of which have occurred on the subway, in subway stations and on public streets — is chilling. The police commissioner’s response is, too.

“We will always have crime in the city,” Bratton told The New York Times.

That may be true, Mr. Bratton. But it is your agency’s job to do something about it.

 

 

New year, new laws

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“The AKC was proud to support this important legislation.” – American Kennel Club

A brand new year always brings changes – some of which are good and some of which we can almost certainly do without. Among them are new laws, some of which affect all of us and some that affect only those of us who live in, visit or travel through certain areas.

In any case, the new rules always get their share of ink and generate plenty of conversation. And that makes for copious blog fodder. Have no fear, I’m hardly about to discuss, or even list, every single law that took effect January 1. In this post, I’ll focus on just one – an act changing the New York State social services law regarding victims of domestic violence and their pets.

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

The authorized amendment allows those in need of refuge to bring their service or therapy animals to emergency shelters. You can view the full text of the bill  backed by the American Kennel Club that was ultimately signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo here.

On its website, the AKC said it made sense to support the legislation.

“Victims of domestic violence are in a vulnerable and frightening situation, and the practical assistance and comfort that a service/therapy animal provides can be essential,” the organization said. Furthermore, the AKC said that knowing they won’t have to leave their animals behind makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous situations.

For more information about the AKC’s support for the new law and related issues, click here.