Guest Column

December 27, 2013

The Law and You: Animal abuse

Whenever we hear about a person being cruel to an animal, we are stunned. 

We can’t imagine why someone would fail to feed and care for a helpless pet.

What we see most often are situations where cats or dogs are removed from a home because they are sick and starving or horses are living without veterinary care or proper food.

Often, in these cases, there are so many animals that we wonder how the owners imagined they could afford to care for them. 

Sometimes, there are mental-health issues or there’s a good-hearted wish to rescue the animals but the inability to do so as the numbers grow. 

Experts are paying more attention to animal “hoarding,” which is typified by a person having many animals without the ability to provide basic care and a lack of recognition that they are neglecting them.


I saw all of these kinds of cases, as well as others where pets were left alone for days without food and water. 

If this happened in an apartment building, they typically were discovered by neighbors complaining to the police about a foul odor or constant barking. 

Less often, there are cases of physical abuse, where the owner beats or tortures the animal. 

This can be from cruelty, to “discipline” the animal or to have that mistreatment be a vivid warning to the humans in the household of what the abuser can do to them.


There are real challenges in effectively prosecuting animal cruelty in New York. 

Most crimes against animals are misdemeanors under the Agriculture and Markets Law. Much of the language was written in 1867 and has been referred to as “‘antiquated,” with “vague definitions and concepts.” 

The law was groundbreaking at the time and was primarily concerned with the conditions under which horses and livestock worked, were housed, transported and slaughtered.

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