Man’s Best Friend? New York’s Antiquated Approach to Animal Cruelty Laws

By: Kelly Maloney, Albany Government Law Review

Studies show that many health benefits are derived from relationships between companion animals and their owners.[1] Animals have been shown “to improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, and facilitate social interactions among people who to choose to have pets.”[2] Moreover, service dogs are commonly used as a resource in assisting children suffering from cancer and military veterans who have suffered stress from battle, helping them to rehabilitate both mentally and physically.[3]   Many police departments across the nation employ dogs as an instrumental part of their organizations through the use of K-9 units.[4] It is evident by these examples, and many more that go unnamed, that our society gives great responsibility and praise to animals. So, why are our laws so unwilling to protect them in the same way that they are used to protect people?

In New York, the most horrific crime of animal cruelty is punishable by a maximum sentence of merely two years.[5] Under New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law, of which the laws protecting animals regrettably fall under:

A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty. “[A]ggravated cruelty” shall mean conduct which: (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. . . . [A]ny term of imprisonment imposed for violation of this section shall be a definite sentence, which may not exceed two years.[6]

Conversely, a similar crime committed to a human being carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.[7] Under New York’s Penal Law,

[a] person is guilty of murder in the first degree when . . . [w]ith intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; and . . . the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim’s death. “[T]orture” means the intentional and depraved infliction of extreme physical pain . . . . Murder in the first degree is a class A-I felony.[8]

A class A-I felony carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment without parole or a minimum of twenty to twenty-five years and a maximum of life imprisonment.[9] Seemingly identical crimes carry drastically different sentences.[10]   However, both crimes equally, and horrifically, deprive living, breathing species of a chance at life. Both crimes contain the similar requisite intent to commit extreme physical pain or torture in a depraved manner.[11] Yet, the sentences associated with laws punishing animal cruelty in New York State fall far below a standard of punishment that is appropriate for such acts of cruelty. New York’s animal cruelty laws should be more closely aligned with sentences punishing similar acts committed upon human beings.

Animal cruelty is far too prevalent in our society. In People v. Brodsky, a Montgomery County man was convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals when “he savagely killed three cats belonging to his sister by the use of an axe.”[12] Brodsky was serving a five-year term of probation for an attempted burglary in the third degree conviction at the time of the crime.[13] He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of two years for aggravated cruelty to animals and one to four years for attempted burglary in the third degree, the crime underlying the probation period.[14] Brodsky was sentenced to possibly twice the term of imprisonment for the burglary charge than for the vicious murder of three helpless animals. Under New York State’s Penal Law, “[a] person is guilty of burglary in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.”[15] It seems unjust that New York law takes the entering of building with the intent to commit a crime therein, but failure to do so, more seriously that the successful and vicious murder of numerous innocent creatures.

This disconnect is not only prevalent in New York State. In Massachusetts, the precious pit-bull pup dubbed “Puppy Doe” by Boston media was found tortured and left to die in a Quincy, Massachusetts park this summer.[16] She was found beaten, broken boned, stabbed in the eye, burned, with her limbs pulled from her joints, and with her tongue mutilated into a serpent-like fork.[17] The veterinarian who worked on “Puppy Doe’s” case stated that it was “the worst case of animal abuse” that she had ever seen, indicating that the puppy was a “rack of broken bones.”[18] It was found that the puppy’s injuries were in several different stages of healing at the time the she was found, indicating that the torture took place over an extended period of time.[19] By the time that “Puppy Doe” was rescued, it was too late to save her and the humane society was forced to humanely euthanize her.[20]

Radoslaw Czerkawski, the suspect in the “Puppy Doe” case was indicted on twelve counts of animal cruelty and one count of misleading police; he was held without bail, at the request of his own attorney.[21] “The [twelve] counts of animal cruelty include starvation, willful abandonment, right eye stab wound, two deep nose injuries, cut to the tongue, multiple fractures to the head and spine, fractured ribs, front and back leg injuries, and burn wounds.”[22] Each of the twelve counts of animal cruelty carry up to five years imprisonment while the misleading police charge carries up to ten years imprisonment.[23] Again, while the Massachusetts Penal Law allows for a slightly longer sentence for animal cruelty as we do in New York State, the sentence for misleading the police is still twice the length of the sentence for torturing, mutilating, starving, and murdering an innocent puppy in indescribable ways.[24]

Many of the laws protecting animals were drafted decades ago[25] and contain language and ideology that is far behind our time. Animals are no longer seen as a possession but instead have transformed into trusted friends and members of our families. It is no longer acceptable to allow these innocent creatures to go under protected by the law. Instead, the laws governing crimes against animals should be expanded, and amended, to fall under New York’s Penal Law. Accordingly, animal cruelty laws should be strengthened to ensure adequate protection for animals and those offenses should be classified in order to allow for strict punishment under the law. Reclassifying animal cruelty laws would allow offenders to be held to a greater degree of accountability by enabling harsher sentences that are more consistent with those that are currently employed to punish crimes committed upon human beings, as well as, property.

While I stand firm in my stance that animal cruelty laws should be reassessed and deemed as more serious crimes with lengthier sentences, more consisted with those that would be enforced if similar crimes were committed upon human beings, I recognize that many people may not agree. However, most people would agree that society—our human society that is—should be protected from criminals who choose to reoffend. Both of the defendants in the cases described above had a criminal past before they committed their respective acts of cruelty on animals. Nicholas Brodsky was serving a five-year term of probation on an attempted burglary charge at the time that he savagely killed three cats.[26] Radoslaw Czerkawski allegedly moved across the United State’s deceiving people all along the way, including conning a Massachusetts priest, stealing from various church dioceses, and other instances of fraud.[27] It is not uncommon for animal abusers to partake in other forms of illegal activity. If our lawmakers are unwilling to protect our animals equally to the way that they protect people, they should, at a bare minimum, be required by law to protect the future human victims of those criminals who commit horrific acts of violence against animals. The best way to protect our society as a whole, both people and animals, is to take animal cruelty more seriously and mandate harsher sentencing.

[1] Pets Are Wonderful Support, The Health Benefits of Companion Animals http://www.pawssf.org/document.doc?id=15 (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Wags4Patriots: Service Dogs for Service Members, American Humane Ass’n, http://www.americanhumane.org/interaction/programs/military/wags4patriots.html (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[4] See, e.g., Eden Consulting Group, Police Dog Home Page, http://www.policek9.com (last visited Sept. 30, 2014).

[5] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney 1999).

[6] Id. (emphasis added).

[7] Barry Kamins, Graybook: N. Y. Crim. Stat. & Rules SG-5 (LexisNexis 2013 Edition).

[8] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney 2013) (emphasis added).

[9] Kamins, supra note 7.

[10] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney); N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney); Kamins, supra note 7.

[11] N.Y. Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(x) (McKinney); N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (McKinney).

[12] People v. Brodsky, 16 A.D.3d 843, 843 (2005).

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 844.

[15] N.Y. Penal Law § 140.20 (McKinney 2014).

[16] Puppy Doe: Tortured and Murdered, Young Puppy’s Death is a Call for Justice, Examiner.com, (Sept. 25, 2013, 3:15 PM), http://www.examiner.com/article/puppy-doe-tortured-and-murdered-young-puppy-s-death-is-a-call-for-justice [hereinafter Examiner.com].

[17] Justice For Puppy Doe, Change.org, http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-puppy-doe-tell-craigslist-to-help-stop-violence-against-pets (last visited Jan. 31, 2014); Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[18] Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[19] Radoslaw Czerkawski To Be Held on No Bail; Puppy Doe Will See Justice, Examiner.com, (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.examiner.com/article/radoslaw-czerkawski-to-be-held-on-no-bail-puppy-doe-will-see-justice [hereinafter Puppy Doe Will See Justice].

[20] Examiner.com, supra note 16.

[21] Puppy Doe Will See Justice, supra note 19.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] See generally Nassau DA Says Animal Crimes Bill ‘Stalled’ in State Legislature, Examiner.com (Apr. 7, 2014, 3:03 PM), http://www.examiner.com/article/nassau-da-says-animal-crimes-bill-stalled-state-legislature (noting that New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law dates back to the mid-nineteenth century).

[26] People v. Brodsky, 16 A.D.3d 843, 843 (2005).

[27] Katheleen Conti & Emily Sweeney, Puppy Doe Suspect Has Murky Past, Boston Globe (Nov. 7, 2013), http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2013/11/07/puppy-doe-suspect-past-shrouded-mystery/sUTYeYzGcXK5SHUmAlXJKK/story.html.

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