Legislature holds on new animal cruelty laws

Amid concerns over enforcement and financial impact, Montgomery County legislators voted Tuesday to table a law that would have strengthened animal cruelty rules in the county.

In November 2014, County Executive Matthew Ossenfort asked District 1 Legislator Martin P. Kelly to chair a task force on animal cruelty and abuse. Kelly drafted a proposal including a system of permits and inspections for animal owners, a trap/neuter/release program for feral cats, and an animal abuse registry for offenders. The program would be financed through licensing fees, he said.

Ossenfort vetoed Kelly’s first proposal after hearing from several area residents who feared the new regulations would hurt legitimate businesses rather than addressing the issue of animal cruelty. District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond worked on revising the proposal while Kelly served as chair of the Legislature during 2015.

A number of animal rights advocates attended Tuesday’s meeting as well. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jeanne DeValve, a member of the Ayres Animal Shelter board of directors, summed up the group’s concerns.

I’m here to support the creation of a law to protect our animals, our dogs especially, and so are the rest of us as well,” DeValve said. “New York State ranks 42nd among the 50 states for its animal protection laws. And so we really desperately need some help, especially with the puppy mills coming and settling here.”

During discussion of the resolution, Dimond thanked those who attended the meeting, then thanked Kelly for his work on the proposal.

“One of the good things that I felt came out of it was that we were able to implement an animal welfare investigation and cruelty prevention oversight committee, so we’ve got that covered,” Dimond said. “What this law does is to focus in on a minimum standard of care for animals in Montgomery County. It’s important that we have an animal law that protects animals in Montgomery County, to be a forward-thinking county, to revitalize the county. People want to know that this is what we’re doing, So we came up with this law, and I’ve been working with the executive’s team on reorganization of the department so that there’s no further cost to the county, and I appreciate your support.”

District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler said state laws administered by the Department of Agriculture and Markets already cover much of what is in the proposal. She also said that enforcement of the proposed law would fall to the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, of which she said “doesn’t have an adequate staff right now to do the work.” Wheeler also questioned whether enough information was available to determine whether there would be a cost benefit to the county.

Kelly disagreed with Wheeler, saying enforcement would fall to the Department of Weights and Measures, but that department also has only one employee.

District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel said he was against creating a department to enforce the rules contained in the proposal.

“I want to see the money go to the SPCA or to the Ayres [shelter] – go to the people that need it, not to create another bureaucracy like we do here all the time,” he said. “If the money’s going to help the animals, I’ll see it. If it’s not, I’m not for it. That’s it.”

District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush said enforcement was the problem.

“This really isn’t about whether we can give money to the SPCA or the Ayres shelter,” he said. “Section 3 [of the proposal] tells us there needs to be an enforcement of it, and that’s what this is about–providing the guidelines for us to work by, and having it enforced. So we could give a ton of money to Ayres or the SPCA, but that doesn’t solve the problem if we don’t have an enforcement arm to handle it. With all due respect to what legislator Isabel is saying, I don’t disagree. I’d like to give them all the money we can. We need a legislative arm that can come down on those that are abusing.”

District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell moved to table the resolution.

“I don’t think anybody is against animals,” he said. “Everybody is expressing strong feelings here tonight, and I have some myself. I really want to establish something, and I applaud both of you [Kelly and Dimond] for coming up with this over the past two years. I think we have some things we have to agree on between all of us…I’d be happy to offer a motion to table this, rather than to kill it, and get better answers to the implementation of it and correct that.”

The motion was tabled by a 5-4 vote. Quackenbush, Dimond, District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz and District 6 Legislator John M. Duchessi voted against tabling.

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.