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Animals are People Too…

February 8, 2012

or at least that is how a great many people who live with pets feel – they are a part of their family.

Unfortunately, the laws of this and other nations have not always reflected this same belief and have failed to protect animals.

Although the first laws passed in English-speaking nations to prevent animal cruelty were enacted in Ireland in 1635, and were followed in North America, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1654, and in England in 1654, they were based on the view of animals as property only and essentially protected the animals’ “owners” more than the animals themselves. It wasn’t until 1824 when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in England, and granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria in 1840, that the teachings of John Locke were more widely adopted and it began to be accepted that animals did indeed have feelings and could feel suffering. The ASCPA continued this following on this continent in 1866.

Here in New York State, there exists various statutes that seek to prevent cruelty to animals. However, they are generally found in the Agricultural & Markets Law, rather than the Penal Law where this author believes they belong. They do make it a crime to torture, neglect or abandon animals causing them unjustifiable physical pain and suffering (including leaving a dog outdoors without shelter, confining animals in vehicles in extreme temperatures and engaging in animal fighting) but they are classified as misdemeanors only. In order to rise to the level of a felony and be considered aggravated cruelty, an act must meet a 3-tier intent test — an intentional act, carried out with the intent to cause extreme pain and suffering, and be carried out in a sadistic manner. Even with these laws, those that are actually convicted are rarely sentenced to any jail time at all.

New York State also has a variety of statutes that apply to the civil realm of the law. There are “Pet Laws” in some parts of the state that forbid enforcement of no-pet clauses in housing situations. Testators can create honorary trusts for their pets in their wills. Public elementary schools are mandated to teach humane treatment and protection of animals or risk the loss of public funds.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” – Mahatma Gandhi.