Thursday, March 7, 2013

ANIMAL CRUELTY LAWS: Weak and Unenforced Sept. 12, 2011, Milan Rysa, an illegal immigrant tossed his three-year-old Shar-Pei dog out of his third-story apartment window in Queens, NY.  The dog died upon impact, barely missing two women pedestrians before it hit the street. I have been closely following the progress of Rysa’s case since that night.  Rysa, a bodybuilder who worked at a local gym, was arrested the night of the incident, although he initially said he was asleep when the dog died and had nothing to do with it. He was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and then put in prison. He eventually pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment March 15, 2012 and was given a sentence of 364 days in prison. He served just three-quarters of his sentence.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/alg-milan-rysa-brklyn-jpg.jpg
Milan Rysa and "Brooklyn"
 Rysa then became subject to Immigration and Customs Enforcement action.  He is awaiting a court date to find out if he will be deported to his native Czech Republic. The message Rysa’s experience sends to the world is that in America you can murder an animal that you own, serve a brief prison sentence and then be released. If the American animal abuse laws are inadequate, it is largely because they are archaic and not prioritized by individual states. 
"PRIMO" Consider what happened in my own home town, New Orleans.  Primo was a six-year-old Belgian Malinois who served in the K-9 division of the New Orleans Police Department. In May, 2009, his handler, Officer Jason Lewis, left Primo unattended in a police vehicle in extreme heat.  The dog evidently struggled to escape the vehicle, but weakened and died of heat stroke.  Prior to dying, the dog was taken to a veterinarian, where he suffered three seizures before succumbing. Photos of the vehicle (above, left) in which Primo died show a torn up interior, likely the result of Primo’s desperate attempt to escape. It should be noted that the necropsy report by the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory shows Primo’s temperature upon arrival at the veterinary clinic was 109.8 degrees.

Lewis was appropriately fired.  But he appealed his termination and in May, 2012 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans said it found no evidence that officer Jason Lewis was negligent in his care for Primo, his 6-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Lewis was reinstated to his NOPD position.

Also in May, 2009, veteran K-9 NOPD officer Sgt. Randy Lewis falsified a permission slip to use another police dog named Phantom in a security search of a shuttered New Orleans hospital.  The dog, who was not technically supposed to be on this detail, broke free from Lewis while in the hospital and fell 17 floors down an elevator shaft.  Lewis, court records indicate, then tried to cover up the details of the dog’s death.  He was charged with malfeasance in office, but remarkably, he was acquitted.

These disgusting examples of animal abuse and neglect may seem as though they are isolated incidents, but the hard truth is that animal mistreatment is epidemic in our culture. The Humane Society of America reports that most victims (65%) are dogs.  It is further reported that 71 per cent of human domestic violence victims report that their abuser also targets their animals. Forty-seven states currently have felony provisions for animal abuse. Those that do not have such laws are Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota. problem is that these laws are weakly enforced, and individual judges can dismiss cases, which is exactly what happened with Sgt. Randy Lewis. The felony animal abuse laws are unevenly prosecuted nationwide.  Perhaps this rather nonchalant view of animal abuse will explain why in 2010, there were only 16 reported cases of animal abuse in Louisiana.  In New York, where Milan Rysa murdered his dog, there were 100 cases, still a fraction of the number of animals that were most likely abused in the state that year.

Some perspective:  In Louisiana, the penalty for purse-snatching is two to 20 years in prison. But, as stated above, the penalty for allowing a dog to die under the cruelest conditions in a hot car with windows closed was…well, there was no penalty. In New York, the penalty for breaking windows in someone’s house is imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of not more than $15,000.00 or 3 times the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine. But, in the case of Milan Rysa, the penalty for murdering a dog is less than a year in prison, and no fine. There are many states, most notably Kentucky and New Mexico, in which owners do not even have to forfeit their animals if they abuse them and get caught.  They get to keep them and most likely abuse them further. There is no consistency from state to state regarding animal abuse laws and penalties and many states almost ignore the problem. In Iowa, for example, police officers are not even required to report animal abuse that they witness, or to intervene to try to stop the abuse. You can beat your dog up in front of an Iowa cop and he or she has no obligation to stop you.

In 2012, the Animal Legal Defense Fund issued a report, "U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings," in which it ranked every state in the U.S. as to its animal abuse laws and enforcement.  Even in Illinois, which it ranked in the top five states for animal protection, it revealed that if a citizen is convicted of animal abuse, he or she does not have to give up their animal. Further, just like Iowa, if police officers witness animal abuse, they do not have “an affirmative duty to enforce animal protection laws.”   Other states have animal protection laws that lack definitions, so enforcement of the laws becomes arbitrary.  Still other states lack basic laws to protect animals from obvious mistreatment. In New Mexico, for example, remarkably there are no provisions for sexual assault of an animal. We humans have to start taking action in our individual states to strengthen these laws.  Here is what you can do:

1.      Contact your state legislators and express your concern about animal protection. Many legislators do not take much of an interest in animal protection because it is not a hot button topic that gains them notoriety or votes. You have to push them to act. WE ALL HAVE TO BECOME ACTIVISTS AND LOBBYISTS.  Animals are depending on us.
2.      If you suspect or witness animal cruelty or neglect, report the abuse to the Humane Society, document what you have seen or suspected and be willing to testify against the perpetrator.
3.      Work within the system to strengthen existing animal protection laws in your state. Start locally, move to the state level and then the national level, via groups that are already involved with animal protection.
4.      Know the laws in your state so that you can know what is missing. Click here to learn the specifics of the laws in your state, as listed by the ASPCA.    Also, know what laws are pending.  You can find this out through an interactive map
6.      at Born Free USA, a national non-profit organization that lobbies for the care and protection of animals. 
 5.  Contact the media to get coverage for instances of extreme cruelty and neglect. If you contact a local television station, ask to speak directly with the news director and be brief, concise and specific.  Offer to be interviewed, if necessary. 

Most importantly, adopt animals that you can take care of properly. Encourage people you trust to do the same. If you truly love animals, now is the time for us all to mobilize against animal cruelty.  Never give up and never stop caring.

1 comment:

Sara Sponda said...

And since this article was written what has changed? NOTHING!!! Utterly ridiculous!!!!! I have contacted my state senator and have had to call back repeatedly to get a form emailed to me to request legislative action. The media will not even call me back!! As time goes on it's actually getting worse!