Animal rights activists in the city and across the state are applauding new legislation that would double the fines for New York residents who walk away from their pets without providing any type of care for them.
Senate Bill S410, which was recently passed by the Senate and is now under review by the Assembly, would double the fine for abandoning an animal from $1,000 to $2,000, while also continuing to carry a possible penalty of up to a year in prison.
The penalty would apply to owners who abandon and stop providing care for their animals as well as to those who fail to retrieve an injured pet when found in a public place and they are notified of its whereabouts.
State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., who supports the legislation, said “Unfortunately, many people, for a variety of reasons, simply abandon their animals when they decide they can’t or won’t care for them anymore.”
“This is cruel and contributes significantly to spiraling animal overpopulation and associated problems in many communities,” he said.
Addabbo added that there is little downside to the legislation and said it has a “good chance of being passed by the Assembly and signed into law by the governor.”
Although pet abandonment numbers are not tracked in the state and city, according to the ASPCA, the scope of the problem is evident from the numbers of stray animals that are picked-up each year by various animal care organizations.
Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit coalition of animal welfare organizations, noted that according to statistics from the city’s animal care and control agency, last year more than 5,000 dogs and nearly 14,000 cats were taken in for shelter and care.
Asked about the proposed legislation, Hoffman said that while it’s a good start, more needs to be done.
"I'm very pleased when members of the legislature consider animal abuse or neglect a serious offense; it's been too long in coming.”
However, Hoffman said the reasons why people abandon animals are complex and that more often than not they involve people moving and not being allowed to take their pet with them.
“The law needs to be changed to require landlords to allow tenants to have pets," she said. "Too many buildings have breed restrictions or weight restrictions or outright bans, and this is not good for people or animals. If people have to move and the building they are moving into doesn’t allow pets or their pet, then the pet may very well get abandoned or brought to a shelter. Landlords are a big part of the abandonment of pets.”
Other reasons people abandon pets include not being able to afford food and veterinary care.
Hoffman said that some possible fixes could allow food banks to also provide pet food and for other city-based animal care organizations to step-in with either free or low-cost pet care, such as the Humane Society of New York, which already provides such care.
But, Hoffman also said there are those who simply will disobey the law and abandon unwanted pets no matter what the penalty.
For Manhattan resident Deborah Ciavolella, owner of a dachshund rescued from a notorious puppy mill in West Virginia in 2008, she had little sympathy for those who would abandon their pet.
“Not increasing the imprisonment of up to one year incites me. Up to a year in jail is a menial consequence for such malicious conduct,” Ciavolella said, emphatically. “The mandatory penalty should be two and two: a $2,000 fine and two years in jail, period. No exceptions!”
Added Addabbo: “We need to take action to address animal overpopulation, cruelty and abandonment on a number of different fronts, and increasing penalties for irresponsible owner behavior is one part of the puzzle.”