Helping Out Our Furry Friends

By: Jennifer D. Caggiano

Helping Out Our Furry Friends

As the cold weather approaches our area, pet owners in Syracuse should be aware of the new legislation passed in June of this year which stipulates that an animal shall not be left outside for more than two hours below 30 degrees or above 90 degrees.  The legislation, known as Adrian’s Law, was named after a pit bull who froze to death in January. At that time, the City’s Dog Control Officer had no authority over the situation other than asking the dog’s owner to bring the dog inside. Now, with the passage of Adrian’s Law, City law enforcement officials finally have some “bite” to punish neglectful or abusive pet owners. Violators could be subject to arrest, incarceration and fines up to $500. This law also works in conjunction with the Onondaga County Animal Abuser Registry. The Registry was established in 2017 by an act of the Onondaga County Legislature. The complete law may be viewed here. Anyone convicted of animal cruelty, who resides in Onondaga County, is required to register with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office within five (5) days of their release from incarceration or, if not incarcerated, from the date of the conviction.

What should you do if you see an animal left out in the cold? If you’re in the City of Syracuse, call the police department’s designated Animal Cruelty Investigator, Officer Rebecca Cosgrove at 315-422-5336. You can also call the City’s Animal Control Office at 315-473-6608. Those outside the city should call 911 and the SPCA at 315-454-4479. Of course, you should report any type of suspected animal abuse, not just a dog left out in the cold!

So what happens to the animal if the owner is arrested? The City of Syracuse has aggressively stepped up their efforts to prosecute and convict animal abusers, however for years the animal was left in limbo. Because dogs, cats and other domesticated animals are considered property under New York’s Agricultural Laws, they have no legal rights. However, things are looking up for our four-legged companions. In conjunction with the Syracuse Police Department and the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, a volunteer coalition of local attorneys and non-attorneys are here to “represent” abused or neglected animals. The VALAC program (Volunteer Advocate Lawyer for Animal Abuse Court) is a local organization who takes over the care and representation of animals which were surrendered by their owner following their arrest for animal cruelty. VALACs will visit the animal in the local hospital where it is staying and document its progress with photographs and reports. This information is then provided to the District Attorney’s office and the Court as a way to provide some guidance that will be useful in the prosecution of the pet’s former owner. VALACs attend all Court appearances and are often asked by the Judge for their input on the animal. The intention is to punish the defendant appropriately and also to give an informed opinion about whether the defendant is simply uneducated about caring for a pet, or a danger to the pet. VALACs have been successful in re-homing many formerly abused animals who are now enjoying their second life in their “furever home”.

I count myself as one of the lucky VALACs and it is an incredibly rewarding experience. You’ll never have a better client! Information about the VALAC program and some of our past and current success stories can be found here.

Many of us here at Mackenzie Hughes LLP are pet owners and we know that pets are family, so let’s spread the word to make sure others are looking out for our family members as well!