ELIZABETHTOWN — A new Essex County group will track cruelty to animals and its public-safety impact.
The county-created Task Force will also better monitor pet abuse and its correlation to domestic violence in advance of tougher local laws.
Jessica Hartley, a member of the North Country Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Board of Directors, presented sobering facts to supervisors at a recent meeting.
“This is more than just an animal-welfare issue,” she said. “It really is a public-safety and a public-welfare issue.
“(Animal abuse) is termed ‘the link’ — there is a strong correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence and child abuse. History of pet abuse is one of the most significant indicators that someone will become a domestic batterer; 71 percent of pet-owning women in domestic-violence shelters report that their animals were also abused by their batterers. A study in New Jersey found that 90 percent of homes with family violence also reported animal abuse.”
And pet abuse is occurring at a sustained rate.
In Essex County last month, Hartley said, six new cases of animal cruelty were reported.
“They are very clear-cut sort of outright cases of either aggravated cruelty or gross neglect,” she said. “To illustrate what we have been dealing with: A mother cat and three kittens were abandoned last month on what was, unfortunately, one of the hottest days of the year. They were sealed up in a cardboard box with duct tape, and then, we suspect, thrown out of a car window and left on the roadside.
“We have had multiple dogs allegedly dumped on the (Adirondack) Northway on two separate occasions for a total of four dogs, and one, unfortunately, was struck and killed by a car.”
She also mentioned a case where a local man was charged with killing his own dog with a knife.
WEAK STATE LAW
Hartley said the SPCA has collected a large body of evidence and data over the last three years.
“We were fortunate to be able to sit down with both the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office. We presented a lot of the same material that we are presenting to you,” Hartley said.
“That meeting evolved into a very productive discussion and brainstorming of the mutual needs we have as concerned citizens and humane organizations.”
One of the problems is the need for stronger local laws, Hartley told supervisors.
“Article 26, under (State) Agriculture and Markets Law, is very weak and archaic and is ambiguous and very ill-defined around what constitutes proper shelter for animals; proper containment for farm animals; exposure to extreme weather conditions; of course, funding for seized animals; and what, exactly, defines abandonment.”
Education and training both for public awareness and for town animal-control officers is also lacking in Essex County, she asserted.
“There is no standardized description for (animal-control officers), and there is also no mutual-aid agreement between towns. Right now, they are sort of all over the map.”
DA BACKS PANEL
Hartley suggested supervisors establish an Essex County Animal Cruelty Task Force to address the problem, strengthen laws and build mutual assistance among towns and county law enforcement.
“We see this group to be comprised of at least two supervisors, two representatives from the DA’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, the Probation Department, local humane organizations and one or two members of the public,” Hartley said.
Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague told supervisors her office is fully committed to the new Task Force.
“I have stated to Jessica, as well as the Probation Department Director Scott McDonald, we are all committed to the Task Force. We are hoping that maybe some supervisors do step forward, those that have issues in their own communities, so that we can see what other resources we have.”
Sprague said the goal would be to establish a county-wide animal-cruelty law.
“We need to be able to communicate directly among law enforcement with concerned citizens; there is also the possibility of situations that we may not know about or that the Probation Office doesn’t know about.”
Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) asked if the DA’s Office can prosecute if town laws are strengthened.
“Yes,” Sprague said.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to create the new Animal Cruelty Task Force.
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