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Letter: Westchester D.A. Discusses Animal Cruelty

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – For many of us with pets, a dog or cat is lovingly treated as a member of our family. For some, an animal is seen as a target for maltreatment or physical abuse.

Abusive behavior toward any animal is not only cruel and disturbing – it is illegal. As district attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I would like to share with you the work my office is doing in cases of animal cruelty.

Animal cruelty is defined in New York law as any act of violence or neglect that results in unjustifiable pain and suffering of an animal. This not only includes denying a companion animal or pet the basic necessities such as food, water and shelter, but leaving a companion animal in a vehicle exposed to extreme weather, hot or cold, without protection. New York’s aggravated cruelty to animals law makes it a felony when a person intentionally kills or causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with no justifiable purpose. Engaging in animal fighting, which includes training, breeding, selling, owning or possessing animals for the purpose of fighting, is also a felony under New York law. And our New York State laws against sexual misconduct include the sexual abuse of an animal.

As district attorney, I pay close attention to cases of animal cruelty, not only because the behavior is inherently cruel and repulsive, but because these cases raise important public safety concerns. Research tells us that a person’s mistreatment of an animal is associated with a likelihood of his or her committing further violence or criminal acts against humans. We also know from research that a child who abuses an animal may have either witnessed or experienced violence at home. For these reasons, I consider it extremely important to identify, thoroughly investigate and appropriately prosecute animal cruelty cases that occur here in our county.

On my staff, I have a specially trained assistant district attorney who is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of these cases. This assistant collaborates with local police departments and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Westchester (SPCA) to maximize the effectiveness and impact of the work in this area. Her expertise also extends to police training rooms, where she teaches officers and veterinary personnel throughout the region in identifying, investigating and collecting evidence, including DNA, in animal cruelty and animal fighting cases. This assistant district attorney also speaks to children in local classrooms about animal cruelty and the cases we prosecute in this area, with the ultimate goal of promoting kinder treatment of animals and each other.

Recent cases that have resulted in convictions and jail sentences show the importance of our work. In Rye, a concerned resident set up a concealed security camera in his apartment and recorded the building superintendent unlawfully entering the apartment and sexually abusing the resident’s dog. The superintendent was arrested, prosecuted and convicted of burglary and sexual misconduct against the dog. The defendant was sentenced to 6 ½ years in state prison.

When a Yorktown man intentionally killed his girlfriend’s dog by yanking the dog’s collar so hard that he snapped the dog’s head off its spine, the Yorktown Police and the SPCA investigated. DNA evidence was recovered and linked the defendant to the crime. This man was convicted of aggravated animal cruelty and sentenced to 13 months in the Westchester County Jail.

In another crime, what began as a drug investigation by Yonkers Police resulted in the discovery of a dog fighting ring run by a Yonkers man. Sixteen dogs, some emaciated and some severely injured, were found in a garage behind his home. In the end, three of these dogs had to be euthanized and 13 were taken to shelters. This defendant was prosecuted and convicted on drug and animal fighting charges, and was sentenced to five to nine years in state prison.

Our work in the area of animal cruelty is an important priority for us. If you see an animal being mistreated or you are aware of a case involving animal cruelty, please help by contacting your local police department.

Click here for more information on the work of the District Attorney’s Office.