cute puppy

Patrick’s Law Calls Out Animal Abuse

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 1, a call was made to Toms River police that a white pick-up truck was seen doing “donuts” on the ice near Pine Beach.  When police arrived, the headlights and taillights disappeared as the pick-up broke through the ice and sunk into the river.  

A Coast Guard helicopter spotted the pick-up several hours later in about six feet of water during its search and rescue mission.  Divers, looking for human victims, located the body of a 2-year-old boxer who had been left in the truck. This discovery sparked outrage in animal activist circles, bringing to the forefront the questions surrounding animal abuse laws and punishments in NJ.  This case brought over 1,000 signatures to a petition requesting animal cruelty charges be brought against the driver of the pick-up in the days after the story broke.

Heidi Bludau, lecturer of  history and anthropology, explained that this passionate response to animal abuse relates to our society’s tendency to humanize animals, specifically “dogs and cats for the most part.”  Bludau continued, “They are pets, companions that we care for.  We name them, give them special diets, take them to the doctor – they are part of our families.  When we see someone abusing a dog or cat, we consider it akin to abusing a human.”  Bludau attributes this to our culture, “Watching commercials asking for donations to the ASCPA and the Wounded Warriors Fund, it is difficult not to see the comparison in which neglected animals are elevated and portrayed much in the same way as ‘neglected’ humans.”

Andrew Mayer, 27 of Toms River, the driver of the pick-up, turned himself in several hours after the body of the boxer was discovered.  He was charged with third degree criminal mischief for the disruption in public service caused by the search and rescue efforts along with reckless driving and pollution.  One count of third degree failure to provide proper care by recklessly endangering the animal’s life was added after the recovery of the pick-up and Rolo’s body.  

Masters in history student Andrew Cirualo said, “In this case, I think any animal abuse charge is warranted. These guys were clearly not thinking of their own safety or that of the animals, and when things went wrong, the only individual to suffer in this situation was the animal. I think at least a negligence charge is a fitting punishment for the perpetrators.”  Cirualo added that perhaps it was an accident, “but this was just such a blatant act of idiocy on their part. I mean, imagine if it wasn’t a dog that got left in the car — what if it were a child? In that case, we would gladly throw the book at these guys!”

The animal abuse charged against Mayer falls under “Patrick’s Law,” which was signed by Governor Chris Christie on Aug. 7, 2013.  This law, created in response to the case of Patrick, a pitbull found almost starved to death and thrown down a garbage chute in Newark in 2011, increases the criminal and civil penalties for “inflicting unnecessary cruelty upon a living animal or creature,” or “leaving it unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions.”  If the animal dies, the charge is upgraded to a third degree offense which brings a penalty of three to five years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.  This is the specific portion of Patrick’s Law that applies to Mayer.

Although Mayer has no violent criminal history, he currently has nine active points, has been issued 14 moving violations, and has had 12 suspensions of his license, according to the Asbury Park Press.  Masters in history student Molly Kline noted that Mayer’s driving history as well as his actions reveal Mayer’s “carelessness.”  Kline added that the incident was “tragic,” but may not have been preventable by instituting stricter laws in this particular case, “He clearly was not smart in his actions to go out there and put himself, his friend, and his dog in that amount of danger.”  

Chris Hirschler, assistant professor of health and physical education, agreed, stating, “It appears that Mr. Mayer was being reckless. However, I don’t think that fines or jail time is the answer. His punishment is the loss of his companion.”

So, are animal abuse laws strict enough? And will stricter laws prevent abuse? Masters in istory student Krisann Binetti, who owns a number of rescues, thinks, “Punishments are not tough enough for the people who do this to animals. If punishments were harsh maybe the amount of animal cruelty would decrease.”

Another recent and local case reveals that current punishments may not be a deterrent.  As recently as Feb.  2 in Long Branch, a discovery of two beagles’ emaciated bodies were recovered in James Walker’s Rosewood Avenue shed.The 73-year-old resident was sentenced in Long Branch Municipal Court on Feb. 24 to a $1,500 fine and is forbidden to own animals in the future.  

Actual numbers to reveal trends however, do not appear to exist.  Until recently, animal abuse cases have been included in the “other offenses” category in the FBI’s crime reports.  USA Today reported in Sept. 2014 that the FBI will begin tracking animal abuse cases as its own category.  Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States noted that these cases will no longer be categorized as other offenses “simply because the victims were animals. Just as the FBI tracks hate crimes and other important categories, we will now have critical data on animal cruelty.” Perhaps with statistics to reveal the occurrence and severity of animal abuse cases, the laws can be better suited to actually deter this type of violence.