Buddy & Porky: About Animal Cruelty

Dear Porky and Buddy,

I heard on the news last night about two boys being arrested for animal cruelty for basically terrorizing a cat and posting what they did on the internet. Thank goodness the cat wasn’t physically harmed, but if so, is it still cruelty under the law? And a couple of weeks ago I read about some people being arrested for starving their horses almost to death. If they weren’t feeding their animals how come no one caught them sooner? What does New York law say about all this?


Dear Joe,

You would think this would be an easy question to answer, but you would be wrong.

The New York statutes on animal cruelty are in the Agriculture and Markets Law, not the Penal Law where most are crimes are defined.. The basic statute, Section 353, provides that it is a misdemeanor for anyone to torture, cruelly beat, or unjustifiably injure, maim, or kill any animal or to deprive any animal of sustenance, food ro drink. So what these kids did to that poor cat, if the facts are accurately reported, would seem to constitute a misdemeanor under this statute.

In 1999, New York’s animal cruelty laws were amended to provide, for the first time, that some forms of animal abuse would be considered a felony, punishable by up to two years imprisonment. Section 353-a of the Ag and Markets Law provides that “a person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or causes serious physical injury to a companion animal with aggravated cruelty.” Aggravated cruelty is defined in the statute as conduct which is intended to cause extreme physical pain or is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner. So what the kids are alleged to have done is not felony animal cruelty as defined in New York because, thank goodness, they did not cause “serious physical injury.”

The case of the starving horses would also seem to be misdemeanor animal cruelty. But starvation cases are distressingly common and distressingly difficult to prosecute. You have to be able to show that an animal has not been provided food and/or water over a period of time, but that period of time is not defined in the statute. What do you do if the owner is providing some food but not enough or it is very poor quality? What if the owner claims that the animal is thin because it is very old or sick? The lines are not easy to draw about when there is enough evidence to obtain a court order to actually seize an animal. What it sometimes boils down to is that you have to wait until an animal becomes severely emaciated before law enforcement can take effective action. It is very frustrating for police agencies that deal with these problems and for animal welfare organizations that try to assist, but efforts to make these statutes more clear and easier to enforce have not been successful.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter assistance, information and referral, adoption assistance to pet owners, humane education programs, foster care and adoption for pets in urgent need, assistance with lost and found pets. Our administrative offices and spay/neuter clinic are located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Check our web site at www.oswegohumane.org or call (315) 207-1070 for more information or to be placed on our mailing list for our newsletter