Cruelty against dogs a tough case to fight

Dog enforcement officers often face a number of challenges in their day to day routine, but none is more trying than dealing with cases of abuse against canine comrades.

“There’s a great misconception that we enforce the cruelty laws and that’s a fallacy,” said Ellery Dog Control Officer Christina Wiles. “We’re really unable to do anything.”

Wiles, who is also the dog control officer for Charlotte and Villenova in Chautauqua County, has been seeing an unnerving rise in cases of cruelty against dogs as of late.

“It’s becoming more and more of a serious issue,” said Wiles. “You wouldn’t believe how many calls we get. Unfortunately we get the calls and they get upset we can’t do anything.”

While dog enforcement officers have authority in certain areas of the law, they can’t arrest someone for acts of cruelty against a dog. “Dog control officers do not have the right to enforce New York Agricultuaral Article 26 (Cruelty to Animals),” Wiles stated. “Unfortunately, because it’s a misdemeanor or felony, we can’t enforce that. The only people who can enforce that are police officers or cruelty investigators.”

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson commented on the number of cases he sees in a typical year and how the prosecution process works.

“Animal Cruelty is part of Agriculture and Market Laws,” Swanson said. “We’re not obligated to prosecute those offenses, but we do on the more serious ones. The most serious is the Class E Felony, (which) requires the animal to have died. There’s less than a dozen a year. Others are generally unclassified misdemeanors, we typically don’t track those. Sometimes we have DEC people do it.”

Wiles emphasized a lack of procedure as part of a bigger problem with the increase in dog-related violence. “There is no procedure in place for cruelty,” Wiles stated. Moreover, a discrepancy between unlicensed dogs and licensed dogs makes processing even murkier.

Dog control officers can act and remove a dog immediately, but only if it’s unlicensed.

“A lot of times, in certain circumstances as a dog control officer, we do have the right under Article 7 to seize any dog on or off a property that is not licensed,” Wiles said. “So if there’s a situation for immediate need of removal, if it’s not licensed, then we can remove the dog immediately from the premises. If licensed, it has to go through the proper channels, and there’s nothing we can do.”

Unfortunately, what some deem as “smaller” cases, like stories or videos seen on Facebook or through social media, are often seen as such by those with the authority to act on it, according to Wiles. “Even animal cruelty investigators often don’t want to touch it,” Wiles said of some cruelty cases. “We can switch cases over to cruelty officers, but that’s about all we can do.”

When asked what someone can do if they see a dog getting abused, Wiles had this sound advice, and a stern warning about letting cruelty go unchecked.

“Call your local sheriff’s department or local police,” Wiles concluded. “They’re the only ones who can investigate animal cruelty. Someone who is cruel to animals is nine times more likely to commit other violent crimes.”

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