ELIZABETHTOWN - A new task force is being formed to deal with animal cruelty in Essex County.
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, supervisor of the town of Jay, said Monday he will appoint county lawmakers and officials to the proposed task force, which will also include members of local humane societies and county residents.
Jessica Hartley belongs to the North Country Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Board of Directors. Speaking at Monday's board meeting, she told supervisors that the issues surrounding animal cruelty go beyond animal welfare.
North Country Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals board member Jessica Hartley speaks to Essex County lawmakers about the need for a task force on animal cruelty during Monday’s meeting.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"They really do extend into the fear of public safety and public welfare because there is a very strong connection between animal cruelty and domestic and family violence," Hartley said.
Hartley explained that the North Country SPCA, based in Westport, consists of concerned citizens from across Essex County and works with other humane groups like Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue, also based in Westport. She said the organization's goal is to bring attention to animal cruelty.
"It certainly is not isolated to just one or two specific areas within the county," she said. "In the last month alone, we have had at least six new cases of animal cruelty in this county."
Hartley said those recent cases have involved either aggravated cruelty or gross neglect. She said in one instance, a female cat and three kittens were found in a sealed cardboard box on the side of a road on one of the hottest days of the summer. In two other cases, the SPCA found dogs that had been dumped on the side of Interstate 87; one of the dogs was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.
Another recent case received more publicity and resulted in a felony charge. On July 24, state police were called to Paul T. Facey's Westport home. According to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, troopers arrived to find a dead adult female pit bull. Police said Facey, 23, didn't have a "viable reason" for killing the dog, according to the newspaper. He now faces one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Last August, two local men were arrested after they threw a large stone at a great blue heron near the Jay Covered Bridge, injuring its right wing and leg so badly it had to be euthanized, despite efforts to save it by staff at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington. In January, Michael Martindale Jr., 29, of Jay, and Ryan Slater, 22, of Wilmington, were sentenced for the crime earlier this year: Slater spent 60 days in jail and was returned to state prison for four years for a parole violation, and Martindale paid a fine of about $500.
Hartley said other cases involved dogs that had been shot, hoarding situations in which 20 or more cats were found boarded up in a trailer and abandoned, and other instances where cats and dogs had been tossed out of moving vehicles.
Hartley also spoke about "the link" - a term used by social service and animal welfare groups to discuss the strong correlation between animal cruelty, domestic violence and child abuse.
"The takeaway from all of this is that history of pet abuse is one of the foremost significant indicators that someone will become a domestic batterer," she said.
Hartley said 71 percent of pet-owning women who check in at domestic violence shelters report that their batterers also abused their pets. She said 90 percent of homes that report family violence also reported animal abuse.
"Animal cruelty is really the hallmark of sociopathic behavior," she said. "If you take a look at the history and childhood of any notorious serial killer - Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz - you will see a pattern of abuse in their histories."
The big challenge, Hartley said, is to find a better way to prosecute people for animal cruelty. During a recent meeting with Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague, Hartley said her organization and law enforcement officials were able to identify several areas that need to be addressed.
For one, Hartley said local and state laws pertaining to animal cruelty need to be improved. She said Article 26 of New York State Agriculture & Markets Law is "very weak and archaic in its language." She said rules for sheltering animals, containment for farm animals and exposure to extreme weather are "ill-defined."
There's also a need for emergency shelter for animals removed from abusive situations, Hartley said.
"I know in the past we have had situations where there is an investigation ongoing at 10 o'clock on a random Tuesday night - 12 dogs needed to be seized, but where do they go?" she said. "Right now there is no plan in place to deal with situations like that."
Hartley said education and training is also important, not just for local animal control officers but also for town justices, police officers and other officials. She said job descriptions for animal control officers need to be standardized, noting that her organization has found a lack of mutual aid agreements between towns in Essex County.
Education and awareness is important, too, Hartley said.
"A lot of the cases that we do see are actually acts of omissions," she said. "They are not always sort of deliberate acts of violence or cruelty, and they are really borne out of ignorance. People don't always know how to properly care for their animals, so a little bit of education around proper nourishment and proper sheltering can hopefully go a long way in sort of reducing the types of neglect cases that we do see."
The North Country SPCA also wants to collaborate more with other humane societies in New York and Vermont, Hartley said.
Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said his town's animal control officer does a good job and has made arrests. The problem, Scozzafava said, is that the charges rarely hold up in court because state laws are weak and poorly written.
Sprague said an update to local town and county laws could help.
"We have to sort of take it into our own hands at this point and maybe sit down and start going over what we can do locally until the state amends the statute," she said.
Sprague said if towns enact local law to tighten up current statutes, her office will prosecute.
Hartley said the task force would ideally include at least two town supervisors, as well as representatives from the DA's office, the Sheriff's Department, the Probation Department, members of local humane organizations and several county residents.