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The Arfs Have It

Legislature Votes to urge passage of law seeking stiffer penalties to for dog - abusers

By Craig Tretiak

Paul Wojtaszek comforts an abused dog named Dillan.

Anyone watching last Tuesday’s meeting of the Niagara County Legislature on Channel 22 actually witnessed what many have asserted for years: government is going to the dogs.

In this case, quite literally.

The Niagara County SPCA brought three canine victims of abuse to highlight a recent spate of animal abuse cases in Niagara Falls and asked county leaders to urge the passage of a state law that would double the penalties for such abuse.

Dubbed “Phoenix’s Law,” a bill in the state Assembly and Senate would modify the state’s Agriculture and Markets law to dole out stiffer sentences and heavier fines to those found guilty of intentionally hurting animals. The bill also requires psychiatric screening of animal abusers.

SPCA leaders sought the action by county officials when Phoenix’s Law stalled in the state Legislature at the end of June. The July death of an emaciated puppy named Jonah in Niagara Falls added to their sense of urgency.

The bill county leaders want to see passed takes its name from Phoenix, a Jack Russell terrier tortured and set on fire by Buffalo teens Diondre Brown and Adell Ziegler. Brown was given a six-month sentence while Ziegler was sentenced to two years in prison.

The failure of the law to pass in Albany has dumbfounded local animal rights activists as well as county lawmakers and the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“Mistreatment of any animal should not be tolerated,” said Sen. Mark Grisanti, who introduced Phoenix’s Law in the Senate. “I want to see this bill become Phoenix’s Law so that we will have on the books a strong piece of legislation that results in stiff punishment for anyone convicted of such a heinous act. By strengthening the penalties and requiring psychiatric evaluation, and if necessary treatment, we will be able to better protect our animals as well as the public as a whole.”

County legislators agreed, passing a resolution demanding the state act at the earliest opportunity-including any special sessions called by the governor-and pass the tougher sentences into law.

Legislator Cheree Copelin, a LaSalle Republican, co-wrote the county’s Phoenix’s Law resolution with North Tonawanda Legislator Paul Wojtaszek, who, as a Supreme Court law clerk actually was involved in the trial of Phoenix’s torturers.

Wojtaszek, who is a candidate for the state Supreme Court, was reserved in his remarks, citing professional obligations placed on judges in New York state, but did note that he owns a pair of dogs who, he says, “are a big part of my family.”

“I really don’t understand how anyone could hurt a dog,” Wojtaszek said.

Despite that sentiment, three dogs that were paraded around the Niagara County Courthouse’s legislative chambers bore witness to the depravity of some humans, including Gladys, a pitbull whose haw was broken and skull punctured when she was rescued, Odie, a puppy that was kept in a dresser drawer by his former owners and still has difficulty walking completely upright, and Dillan, a severely malnourished and underweight dog profiled in the April 16, 2013 edition of the Niagara Falls Reporter.

The dogs may have been the best lobbyists to ever visit the legislature’s ornate chambers: despite the bill coming from the Republican side of the aisle, the first lawmaker to endorse its passage on the floor was Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso.

The resolution’s unanimous passage makes Niagara County one of the first counties in the state to demand tougher penalties for animal abusers like the Falls man who starved a puppy named Jonah to death last month.

It’s just a shame such a law comes too late for Jonah.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

AUG 13, 2013