The condition in which she was found would suggest Grace the pit bull knew little affection in her life.
The pit bull, assessed by vets at the emergency clinic at DeWitt Animal Hospital to be about 7 or 8 years old, should have weighed around 60 pounds. But Grace weighed roughly 30. She was emaciated, dehydrated, suffering from an eye infection. She couldn’t walk. Her organs were shutting down.
Animal Cruelty Officer Rebecca Thompson of the Syracuse Police judged that she had been starved. Grace’s condition was such that she had to be humanely euthanized. The dog’s owner, Marquette Jamison, 35, of 1511 W. Onondaga St., was charged Oct. 3 failure to provide medical care to an animal that needs it and failure to provide proper sustenance. Both charges are misdemeanors. Jamison was released on an appearance ticket to appear in Syracuse City Court.
So it would appear that Grace was deprived of not only the basic care she needed and, indeed, deserved to survive, but also of the tenderness and respect many companion animals receive on a daily basis.
She might not have received that love in life, but she’s getting it now that she’s gone.
State Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida) has signed on as a co-sponsor to legislation introduced in the last legislative session that will allow those charged with animal abuse or neglect to be charged with a felony under New York State Penal Law. Currently, crimes against companion animals are legislated under New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. This means that the most violators can be charged with is a misdemeanor. Valesky said in many cases, that’s not enough.
“I think that the time has come,” Valesky said. “We’ve seen far too many examples of companion animal abuse and neglect in Syracuse, most recently that of Grace the pit bull.”
Valesky, as a member of the state senate’s Agriculture Committee, was familiar with the proposed legislation before, but he was spurred to sign on as a co-sponsor after a petition was circulated via Change.org. The document was authored by Stefanie Heath-Higgins, president and co-founder of Cuse Pit Crew, a Syracuse-based group that advocates for pit bulls and related breeds and seeks to “refuel the human-animal connection in the city of Syracuse through community outreach and educational programming.”
“We believe that Grace will be the vehicle for change in New York state,” she said. “We cannot allow other animals to suffer at the hands of their owners. The Central New York community can come together to make a change for these animals. They need a voice, and we can be that for them.”
The petition had garnered more than 1,800 signatures before it was sent to Valesky’s office, but the issue had already been on his radar for some time.
“Actually, the Agriculture Committee held a hearing in Utica last spring, because they’ve had a similar situation,” Valesky said. “It seems to be obvious to me that the way to address it is to move the animal cruelty statutes from NYS Agriculture and Markets Law and put it into the penal law, where the penalties for other crimes exist. That’s something that’s actually been suggested by law enforcement. The district attorney’s office in Utica actually said that if we were to do that, it would give them more tools to go out and crack down on these offenders.”
Though the bill didn’t make it to the senate floor when it was first introduced earlier this year, Valesky said he hopes to see action on the bill when the legislature reconvenes in January.
“I’m hopeful that when the new session does convene, there will be a push toward getting this resolved,” he said. “I think companion animals give so much comfort to so many people. How we treat them is important as a society. We ought to be doing everything we can to send a message that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
Heath-Higgins said Central New Yorkers can still make their voices heard on the issue.
“At this point, people can write, email, or call Sen. Valesky thanking him for his support,” she said. “Knowing the community is rallying around him will be sure to motivate him as he brings this to Albany. Also, Lobby Day for animals is every year in June and it would be great to have people from Syracuse go to Albany on this day. Once we have the date we will post on the CPC page and website. In the meantime, we will continue to post ways the community can stay involved and help the cause. This will include ways in which people can help ensure this passes in legislation.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.