'Animal Cruelty Court' in NY: Two Pit Bulls, Chihuahua Are Victims in First Cases

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

All misdemeanor animal cruelty cases in Syracuse, New York, will now go before a single City Court judge, reports

The purpose is to provide an expedited method of hearing cases where the charges do not reach the level of felonies so that accused owners can be dealt with more quickly and are given consistent punishment. It is also intended to shorten the time before trial so that the animal victims do not remain in limbo--languishing in the shelter for months awaiting the trial of their abusers

The new "animal cruelty court" launched last week under City Court Judge Stephen Dougherty is not an official court like drug or traffic court, but several local stakeholders have joined together to bring all the cases to one place, according to the report.

The idea grew from a Central New York animal cruelty task force, which started last summer, uniting many of the area's animal rights groups.

The first three cases heard last Thursday were:

Sean Figueroa, of 131 Rider Ave., accused in March of starving an adult pit bull to the point it weighed less than half its healthy body weight. A doctor said the animal had no fat or muscle when rescued by a neighbor, according to the criminal complaint.

• Terrell Davis, of 226 Sabine St., Apt. 2, accused in February of starving his Chihuahua, named Chong. The dog died with no food in its stomach, exposed ribs and no muscle mass, according to an autopsy report.

• Anthony Williams, of 220 Turtle St., accused in February of clipping the ears of two pit bull puppies, Mimi and Bolo.

All three were continued until June 5. Typically, people convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty get probation or a short jail sentence. However, they are also prohibited from owning pets while on probation.

For all of these cases, Dougherty will be the judge, and Assistant District Attorney Laura Fiorenza will prosecute. Defense lawyers with expertise in cruelty cases will be available for the accused (there is no indication if there is any charge for defense.)

The Central New York SPCA, which has police powers for cruelty cases, and the DeWitt Animal Hospital, which treats many of the victimized animals, are also supportive of the new program.

Syracuse typically investigates and prosecutes 12 to 20 animal cruelty cases a year. The average animal cruelty case takes three to six months, while the animals are in a shelter as their fates are decided, said Kerry Driscoll, manager of the DeWitt Animal Hospital.

There is nothing to indicate the number of cases will increase dramatically in the near future, Judge Dougherty said. The court cannot hear felony animal cruelty cases, which are heard in County Court.

Everyone agrees that animal cruelty cases take a long time, and this is an effort to address that issue for the welfare of the animals, reports

The condition of the starving pit bull victim (pictured), the death of a Chihuahua by starvation, and ears docked with scissors are very painful and serious crimes. It is hoped that the perpetrators will receive the highest penalties possible for these heinous acts.