Sen. Linares seeks to ban the use of accelerated rehabilitation in animal cruelty cases (Reminder News)

March 12, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Reminder News

State lawmakers joined the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA) and animal advocates from across the state at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on March 6 for Connecticut Voices for Animals Day. Attendees had the opportunity to meet with their state legislators and voice their support for humane laws to require proper shelter for dogs, eliminate breed-discriminatory insurance policies, provide court advocates for animals, and prohibit the use of accelerated rehabilitation in animal cruelty cases.

The Environment Committee raised a concept for a bill to require proper shelter for dogs who are left outdoors in extreme weather, or who are otherwise confined. Proponents argue that the bill is needed due to cases such as a 2013 incident involving a pit bull named Lucy. Lucy was burned over most of her body, and a male companion and two puppies were killed, when a space heater ignited the tarp that served as a roof over their makeshift doghouse. The proposed bill would help protect dogs from this and other unreasonable types of “shelter.” According to the ASPCA, “Animal control officers approached about this proposal have uniformly expressed their support.”

H.B. 5361 would prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against dog owners on the basis of breed. According to the ASPCA, “Policies that discriminate on the basis of dog breed do not reduce the number of dog bites.” Furthermore, said the ASPCA, breed is not predictive of dog behavior. Rather, aggressiveness has been linked to predictors such as: early experience, socialization, training, size, reproductive status and prior behavior.

H.B. 6187 would require court advocates for animals, and a related bill would prohibit the use of accelerated rehabilitation in animal cruelty cases. A court advocate essentially gives a voice to animals during court proceedings. According to the ASPCA, “a court advocate can speak to the gravity and social significance of any abuse, including the proven link between animal cruelty and aggression toward people (e.g., Boat & Knight, 2000: 70% of people charged with cruelty to animals were known by police for other violent behavior, including homicide).”

State Sen. Art Linares (R-33) has proposed legislation banning the use of accelerated rehabilitation in animal cruelty cases. Accelerated rehabilitation is “a diversionary pre-trial program intended for crimes not of a serious nature in which a defendant is released into the custody of the Court Support Services Division for a period of no more than two years,” according to the ASPCA. If the defendant successfully completes the assigned program, charges are dismissed by the court, and the defendant’s record expunged.

The ASPCA says that animal cruelty cases rarely result in adequate penalties. From 2002 to 2012, there were 3,699 animal cruelty prosecutions, of which 51% (1,883) were withdrawn and 33% (1,210) were dismissed, according to an ASPCA document. Of these prosecutions, 1.3% (or 48) were felony-level prosecutions, 22 of which were withdrawn or dismissed. Anecdotally, there have been repeated cases of animal cruelty being inadequately penalized, says the ASPCA. “One of the most notorious is the recent case of Desmond, a pit bull/boxer who in 2012 was found beaten, starved, and strangled to death, but whose killer received accelerated rehabilitation,” reads an ASPCA press release. “The fundamental violence of animal cruelty, as well as the link between animal cruelty and violent behavior against other people, also makes animal cruelty a crime of a serious nature, in turn making AR an inappropriate response,” says the ASPCA.

“The ASPCA is proud to host this event to enable animal advocates and state lawmakers to discuss critical animal welfare issues impacting Connecticut’s animals,” saidDebora Bresch, Esq., senior director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Mid-Atlantic region, at the March 6 Hartford event.

“We have a strong legislative agenda for animal welfare issues this year, and I am glad to stand with animal advocates like the ASPCA in support of these important issues,” said state Rep. Diana Urban (D-43). “We need advocates like the ASCPA and other passionate members of the public to stand up and demand action from their legislators. Just look at the recent Ringling Brothers decision to end their elephant acts as an example. When animal advocates make their voices heard on behalf of the voiceless, it is amazing what can get accomplished,” said Urban.