Phoenix, the 5½-month-old Jack Russell terrier recovering from being intentionally set on fire Oct. 29, hasn’t been forgotten.
The Buffalo Small Animal Hospital, where the puppy is recovering, has heard from “thousands” of people – some from as far away as Ireland, Australia and Denmark – with donations to pay for treatment and offers of adoption.
Thursday, Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan offered help of another kind.
Ryan announced he will introduce “Phoenix’s Law” legislation, which would double maximum jail terms from two years to four, and fines from $5,000 to $10,000, for people convicted of aggravated cruelty to companion animals, a felony.
“We’re hoping that, just as Phoenix rises from the ashes, we can have something positive that can come out of this heinous act,” Ryan said at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.
Judi Bunge, a licensed veterinary technician at the shelter who also cares for Phoenix at her home after hours, stood with the dog alongside Ryan as he made the announcement.
Ryan said he was “shocked” to learn penalties weren’t stronger for the horrific crime and thought the time was right to bring New York State into the national average for punishing animal abusers.
The state ranks 38th, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with Illinois having the toughest laws and Kentucky the weakest. New York animal protection laws fall under the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets, with the companion animal law on the books expressly excluding farm animals.
This bill won’t change that, nor affect noncompanion animals who are “cruelly beaten, tortured, mutilated or killed.” Those cases would continue to be treated as misdemeanors under state law.
The proposed legislation also would require a juvenile convicted of animal abuse to have a psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
“Animal cruelty is considered by many experts to be a leading indicator in the predisposition for future acts of violence. Often someone who abuses a vulnerable pet as a child grows up to abuse vulnerable adults and children. This law will help identify somebody with that predisposition, and assist in reducing the possibility of future acts of violence and abuse,” Ryan said.
“It will send a message to all New Yorkers that the state is serious about imposing harsher penalties for animal abuse.”
Ryan said he was confident the legislation would pass. He plans to introduce the bill in January, and expects it to wind its way through the State Legislature within three to five months.
Erie County Legislator Terrence D. McCracken, D-Lancaster/Depew, was on hand to lend his support. He introduced legislation in April, which he plans to reintroduce, to create an animal abuse registry that would allow someone to check online to see if a person had a conviction for animal abuse. It also would prevent someone with a conviction from owning an animal for up to five years.
“Animals are part of our families. I have two dogs and two cats, and they would like to thank Assemblyman Ryan,” McCracken said.
Meanwhile, Bunge said Phoenix continues to make an extraordinary recovery, after he was found badly burned from being doused with lighter fluid outside an East Side drug house. It was the culmination of weeks of alleged cruel treatment at the hands of two Buffalo teenagers, Diondre Brown, 17, and Adam Zeigler, 19, who have been charged with the crime.
Veterinarians performed skin grafting on the puppy’s neck and arm pits, and have taken dead tissue off its ears. They also worked to save Phoenix’s left hind leg.
“Phoenix still has quite a few weeks of healing to go, but we’re very pleased. His ears are healed – they’re totally functional, and he can hear and move them,” Bunge said. “His leg is looking better than we could have hoped, and it’s looking like he definitely will be able to keep it.”
Bunge brings Phoenix home with her at night, and said he lies with her bulldog on the couch and plays with her cat.
“Phoenix is still extremely easy to handle, even with all the things he’s had done. He’s very tolerant of all the bandage changes and all of the treatments,” Bunge said.
“He kind of thinks the world revolves around him at this point and has gotten really spoiled, which is OK.”