Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 11 March 2011 00:00
It has been one year since Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice created Long Island’s first-ever Animal Cruelty Unit, and during that time, prosecutions of these crimes have more than quadrupled, Rice announced at a press conference on March 2 at the Animal Lovers League in Glen Cove. In addition, she stated that the Animal Cruelty hotline – 516-571-ACHL (2245) – has received over 700 complaints of suspected abuse. Staffed by specially trained prosecutors and investigators, Rice explained that the Animal Cruelty Unit operates with one goal: to protect vulnerable pets and animals.
“Animal abuse cases are challenging to prosecute,” Rice said. “You are dealing with a victim who cannot call for help or testify as a witness. Oftentimes the abuse takes place behind closed doors in someone’s home, making it even more difficult to investigate these cases. But with the Animal Cruelty hotline and our ‘watchdogs’ in the community, we have begun to penetrate the closed doors of an abuser. Successful law-enforcement involves the community and this initiative is clear evidence of that.”
The Animal Cruelty Unit handles all felony and misdemeanor cases, including animal abandonment, severe physical abuse, domestic violence-related abuse and criminal neglect, such as food or water deprivation, lack of medical care or shelter. In addition, this includes abuse relating to gang-run dog-fighting rings. At the present time, the District Attorney’s office has drafted legislation that will not only modernize and restructure the current animal abuse laws, which now fall under the state’s Agriculture and Markets Laws, but also will place them under the penal law. Rice explained that this legislation would call for increased penalties for repeat offenders and would make aggravated cruelty a violent felony offense.
In the first year of the Animal Cruelty Unit in operation, about 61 percent of calls to the hotline related to dogs, 26 percent regarded information about cats, and the remaining 13 percent were about birds, farm animals, other animals in industry, and other small animals. In fact, Rice said that the unit conducted inspections last spring of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to investigate the circus’s treatment of nine elephants. She added that they would do the same thing again this year when the circus comes back to town.
“Prior to the unit’s creation, on average, just two animal abuse cases per year were referred to my office by local law enforcement agencies and rarely did those defendants ever see jail time. Now, we have prosecuted 16 cases just in the last year,” Rice said. “We get top-count convictions; we put the worst offenders behind bars,” she added.
Rice explained that very often, in cases of animal abuse, the District Attorney’s office also finds other serious crimes, such as domestic violence, gang violence, and child neglect. “That is why this hotline is so important – it gives our community watchdogs the opportunity to step in and put a stop to these situations,” she said.
As an example of one of the unit’s success stories, Rice introduced Noelle, a female German Shepherd who was rescued last November from a tip received by the hotline about an extremely emaciated dog with a severely injured leg that was living outside in wretched conditions. While the unit’s investigation determined that Noelle’s owner could not be criminally prosecuted due to a mental disability, they were able to rescue Noelle, who was put in the care of the Animal Lovers League.
Joan Phillips, president and co-founder of the Animal Lovers League, said that investigators seized Noelle just in time, before the snowstorms began this past winter. “She was living outside, most likely had been hit by a car, and had been left untreated for an entire year. She could not walk on her injured hind leg,” Ms. Phillips said, and explained that through the love of the community, several veterinarians, and a four-hour surgery, Noelle can now walk again.
“Today, as you can see, Noelle has a new lease on life,” Rice said, as Noelle stood happily by her side. “She is healthy, strong, and living the life every dog should have. None of that would have happened if not for the generosity and kindness of people like Joan, and the dedicated prosecutors and investigators,” she said, adding that they want to keep the success stories coming in the unit’s second year.
While Noelle is walking again and been brought up to a much healthier weight, she is still healing, and will be ready for adoption once her doctors believe she is ready. In the meantime, the shelter will be screening applications for her adoption. Additionally, the shelter appreciates donations, which are tax-deductible, toward medical treatments and general care for Noelle. For more information, visit the website at www.animalloversleague.us or call the Animal Lovers League at (516) 676-5913.
Rice said, “I encourage everyone to go to your local shelter if you want to adopt a pet, and take a loving pet into a loving home.” She added that the public’s help is needed with the Animal Cruelty Unit, so if you know of an animal that is being abused or neglected; call the animal cruelty unit hotline at 516-571-ACHL (2245).