Patrick Oneill was already facing multiple counts of animal cruelty when he allegedly left his Labrador retriever, Ali, in his car for more than four hours on Sept. 2 while he enjoyed the New York State Fair with his girlfriend. Ali, left in the 100-degree car with no water and one window barely cracked, died despite the efforts of state troopers and bystanders who tried to save her.
Animal advocates are saying she didn’t have to die.
“This case is just one of many,” said Shane Camp, who, along with Samantha Synowicki, has started a Facebook group calling for harsher penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals. “I’m a dog lover, and I really hate reading these stories of dogs being left in cars, dragged behind cars and/or abused in any way. In this case the fact that this guy knew he was going to the Fair and chose to bring his dog… this is inexcusable. The laws have to change to make people accountable for their actions, not just little slaps on the wrist and small fines.”
Camp, of Canastota, is a registered nurse who volunteers with a local spay-and-neuter clinic as well as a local wolf rescue center. He and Synowicki, a veterinary technician from Mattydale, have been networking through Facebook to reach out to their friends to get them to sign petitions, write letters to state and local legislators and advocate for tougher laws to prevent such tragedies from taking place in the future.
In particular, Camp and Synowicki’s group is advocating for an animal abuser registry, something state legislators have been discussing for some time.
“This statewide registry will prevent repeat animal abuse offenders throughout New York state. I urge New Yorkers to sign this petition and to contact their legislators to let them know the importance of protecting our furry little friends,” said State Sen. Greg Ball (R,C,I-Patterson), who originally proposed the legislation in the state senate. “Those who commit crimes against animals represent some of the worst kind of people, and often expand their carnage to their neighbors and the larger community. Most people can agree that the level of respect and kindness shown for animals, creatures who cannot speak for themselves, or protect themselves and are easily abused and taken advantage of, is a fine predictor of how a person will treat their peers. Violent and cruel behavior towards animals cannot and should not be tolerated.”
The registry would be similar to the state’s sex offender registry, in that it would require those convicted of abusing animals to register with the division of criminal justice services. In addition, those who have been convicted of abusing and torturing animals would also have to undergo a required psychiatric evaluation and would be banned from ever owning pets again.
The registry legislation passed the New York State Senate, where it was sponsored by Ball, but failed to make it through the Assembly, where the bill was sponsored by Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Glenville). Now Ball is circulating a petition asking state residents to support his bill.
While Camp and his group think the state registry is a step in the right direction, they think it needs to go even further.
“There needs to be a national registry for animal abusers [similar to] the registry [that exists] for sex offenders,” Camp said. “These people need to be on a list where the public [and] law enforcement can make sure they never own an animal again.”
Camp’s group is also demanding harsher penalties of those convicted of animal-related crimes, instead of a “slap on the wrist.” Currently, the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law prohibits “the [confinement] of a companion animal in a motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation from such extreme temperatures where such confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury due to exposure to such extreme heat or cold.” If the owner of the car can’t be located, an officer of the law can remove the animal from the vehicle by any means necessary and taken to a shelter or SPCA. The animal’s owner will then be subject to a fine of anywhere from $50 to $250.
“The laws need to change,” Camp said. “The punishments, fines and jail time need to be increased drastically.”
The state is making strides in that direction. After a highly publicized series of events in Syracuse and Utica last summer involving the abuse of dogs, including the starvation death of a pit bull named Grace, Sen. David Valesky joined of a campaign to move those laws from the state’s Agriculture and Markets code to its penal code, where those who violate it would face harsher penalties and could be charged with a felony instead of lesser crimes. At this point, that move has not yet been made. However, it is still on the legislature’s radar.
Camp said it’s urgent to keep such matters in the public eye and to continue to advocate for change, to speak for those who cannot.
“The case of this poor dog that was left in the car is terrible, like all animal abuse cases,” he said. “It’s up to us, the people who care for animals, or at least know what’s right, to put a stop to it. We have to tell our lawmakers enough is enough.”
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.