Dogfights are a ubiquitous but elusive local enterprise, according to Barbara S. Carr, executive director of the SPCA Serving Erie County.
“Animal fights, whether it’s dogfighting or cockfighting, happen every day in Erie County. Often, you see only the evidence. Sometimes the dogs are dumped. You see them beaten up, and sometimes you just see the dead bodies,” Carr said Wednesday.
“The problem is, the way the laws are written, unless you can find a dogfight in progress, you’re not going to have an arrest.”
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Wednesday that he is launching an initiative aimed at protecting animals from abuse, as well as the people who love them from being the victims of fraud.
The initiative includes stiffer penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals, as well as those involved in organized dogfighting rings.
It also seeks to ensure compliance with the state’s Pet Lemon Law by making it tougher for those who run “puppy mills” to operate.
“Fighting animal cruelty is both a consumer protection issue and a public safety issue,” Schneiderman said.
The initiative will pull together the resources of the Attorney General’s Office and its regional offices across the state, along with the Consumer Fraud Bureau, the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, the Organized Crime Task Force and the Investigations Bureau. Those agencies will work in concert to help bring perpetrators of animal cruelty to justice, Schneiderman said.
“There is a direct correlation between the dogfighting rings and other criminal enterprises, including gangs, gambling and illegal drugs, that put our communities at risk,” he said.
Carr, in applauding the attorney general’s efforts, agreed, saying that the state initiative will result in more agencies sharing information and pooling resources in common endeavors.
“Abused animals, drugs and illegal weapons all kind of go together,” Carr said.
However, she said, various agencies investigating the same crime scene will each have their own specialized focus. SPCA investigators won’t likely recognize evidence of arms and drug trafficking at the scene of a dogfight, she said, and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for instance, could overlook what SPCA investigators are trained to see.
“If we’re all sharing information, you get better results,” Carr said. “Trying to do it individually obviously hasn’t worked.”
Gina M. Browning, a spokeswoman for the SPCA Serving Erie County, said that while more targeted state laws and regulations also would be helpful in curbing the problem, coordinating resources is a good start. “I think it’s exciting that they’re focusing on this,” she said. “What a promising development.”
Meanwhile, she said, state laws, as they are currently written, are not as helpful as they could be in prosecuting those who stage dogfights. “The criteria is so specific that you practically have to see a fight in progress,” Browning said.
Dogfights have become more clandestine and mobile, with some being conducted in the back of moving vans, she added.
“They finish the fight and back up and pull away before you can get to them,” leaving no direct evidence of a dogfight and often no eyewitnesses, Browning said.
A local dogfighting task force was revived about six months ago and meets monthly, Browning said. Several agencies, including the SPCA Serving Erie County, have representatives on the force. Among them are representatives from the Buffalo Police Department, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the Buffalo City Animal Shelter and the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Cydney A. Kelly, an assistant attorney general in the Attorney General’s Office, is one of the task force organizers.
The initiative by the Attorney General’s Office also seeks to protect consumers, whom state law already grants specific rights in the purchasing of dogs and cats from pet stores. For example, consumers have the right to know the source of a dog or cat that they are considering for purchase, and the history veterinary treatments. If a prospective pet owner buys a sick dog or cat and a veterinarian certifies the animal as unfit within 14 days of that purchase, the owner has a right to a refund, exchange or the reimbursement of veterinary costs.
The initiative could be of assistance in regard to a couple of high-profile cases of animal cruelty locally, according to Damien LaVera, a spokesman with the Attorney General’s Office in New York City.
Earlier this week, the state Humane Association, headquartered in Kingston, offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons who are responsible for discarding an 8-week-old puppy that was found last week with a broken jaw, battered and discarded near trash cans last Wednesday in the 600 block of 30th Street in Niagara Falls.
Also, a 19-year-old Buffalo man pleaded guilty Monday to felony aggravated cruelty to animals in the case of Phoenix, a Jack Russell terrier, who was intentionally set on fire Oct. 29 on Herman Street. Adell Ziegler pleaded guilty to the highest charge for which he could have been convicted had he gone to trial.
In a downstate case, Schneiderman announced a civil settlement, which includes a $20,000 fine, with a Yonkers pet store that was keeping animals in unsafe and inhumane conditions.