Newsletter Article:

Unequal Justice

We are bringing you up to date on the outcomes of the animal cruelty cases we have reported on in past newsletters. In some cases, justice was served; in others, it wasn´t.The Winter 2000 newsletter brought you the story of an irresponsible breeder who kept 50 dogs outdoors in deplorable conditions, along with numerous fowl, rabbits and goats who were also in a pathetic state of neglect. The State Police arrested the Maxfields, husband and wife, and charged them with numerous counts of animal cruelty. The Maxfields pled guilty and surrendered the animals. They paid a fine and received probabion, during which time they cannot own any animals.

Unfortunately, the case we reported on in the Winter 2001 newsletter did not fare as well. Investigator Paul DuBois (then of the Ayres Memorial Shelter in Sprakers) assisted the Montgomery Co. Sheriff´s Department in its investigation of a case of extreme animal neglect. Sheriff´s deputies, along with various humane agencies, removed 28 animals from the home of Carl Vitalie and his mother.

Afterward, according to DuBois, Carl Vitalie was charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty and the case went to trial in October 2002. A jury in the Town of Root Court in Sprakers, took eleven minutes to find him guilty of all charges. Sadly, according to DuBois, as of the date of this newsletter, Judge Pamela Kadur has not yet sentenced him. While that case was being litigated, Vitalie began accumulating animals again, this time in Schoharie Co. He was arrested there on animal cruelty charges when nine malnourished dogs and puppies were discovered on the property, some tied to dog houses and others closed in a garage filled with debris. Evidence seemed to indicate that the dogs had cannibalized some puppies for food. Why has Vitalie not yet been sentenced in the Town of Root? No one knows. Is this justice for the animals? No, it is not. Vitalie should be sentenced, and that sentence should include a provision that he not be allowed to own companion animals again (as a judge is allowed to do based on Article 26, Section 374 of the Agriculture and Markets Law).

A better outcome occurred for the case described in the Summer 2002 newsletter. We told you about of City of Kingston Police Officer Kurz and his investigation of the bludgeoning of a pet rabbit by his owner, Daniel Vandemark. The defendant was charged with animal cruelty and had a jury trial in Kingston City Court. The jury returned a guilty verdict in approximately seven minutes. The Ulster Co. DA made it known in a press release that he favored a strong sentence for this type of conduct. Apparently, City Court Judge Feeney felt the same and sentenced Vandemark to county jail for eight months, as well as imposing a fine. Justice was served and we hope the sentence will send a message to the community that this type of conduct will be dealt with seriously in Ulster County.

Unfortunately, Oscar the kitten who was also the victim of violent treatment was not served as well by the justice system. In our last newsletter, we dealt with Oscar´s story. At eight weeks old, he was brutally slammed against a wall with such force that his jaw was broken and his hard palate was displaced. According to Investigator Scott Mazzo of the Finger Lakes SPCA, this act was perpetrated on Oscar by the owner´s boyfriend, Donald Gilmer. The owner brought the cat to the veterinarian and surrendered the animal. Oscar recovered and ultimately found a good home. What Oscar did not receive was justice. The defendant had confessed to Mazzo that he had thrown the cat against the wall. As a result, Mazzo charged Donald Gilmer with felony animal cruelty under Section 353-a of Article 26 of the Agriculture and Markets law. The Steuben County DA´s Office reduced the charge to Sec. 353, a misdemeanor. A plea bargain was struck which resulted in a one year conditional discharge and no fine at all. It is Mazzo´s understanding that this was the result of a recommendation from the probation department in their pre-sentencing investigation. Was justice served in this case? We don´t think so. Why not probation at least? No one knows, least of all Investigator Mazzo who felt he had presented an excellent case.

Why is it that district attorneys and judges across the state respond so differently to crimes against animals? Why is it that in one county a person who brutalized an animal is sent to jail while in another a person convicted of a similarly brutal crime has his adjourned in contemplation of dismissal… We don´t have the answers, but we do have a suggestion as to what to do about it: Get involved! Everyone who cares about animals must let their local officials know they want animal cruelty taken seriously…

Why is it that district attorneys and judges across the state respond so differently to crimes against animals? Why is it that in one county a person who brutalized an animal is sent to jail while in another a person convicted of a similarly brutal crime has his adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Why is it that in one county a person who starves his animals receives a plea bargain that makes sense, while in another county a person convicted by a jury trial has still not been sentenced six months later? We don´t have the answers, but we do have a suggestion as to what to do about it: Get involved! Everyone who cares about animals must let their local officials know they want animal cruelty taken seriously, not only for the sake of the animals, but also because the link between animal abuse and human violence has been well established. This is a quality of life issue and a good quality of life does not include tolerance of animal neglect or animal abuse by any aspect of the justice system, be that the police, the district attorneys, or the judges.

The focus of NYSHA´s involvement is training police. And we have found police officers to be most cooperative. In fact, that is why we receive such a good response to our workshops: police want to learn how to investigate animal cruelty. Unfortunately, because the animal cruelty laws are not in the penal code, police are not trained in them, but once they know what to do, they do it.

The way you — our readers — can get involved is to let the police chiefs, DAs, and judges in your town and county know you want acts of animal cruelty to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When an animal cruelty case is reported in the newspaper, write to the district attorney and let him/her know you want the case treated seriously.

The way you — our readers — can get involved is to let the police chiefs, DAs, and judges in your town and county know you want acts of animal cruelty to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When an animal cruelty case is reported in the newspaper, write to the district attorney and let him/her know you want the case treated seriously. Pay attention to what happens with the case. If there´s a plea bargain that appears reasonable, write to the district attorney and thank him/her. If you do not believe it is a reasonable disposition, express that view as well. If the case goes to jury trial, and the defendant is found guilty, write to the judge and let him/her know why the convicted person should be given a serious sentence. If the judge does impose a stiff sentences, follow up with a letter praising the decision. If not, write a letter expressing your disappointment and why.

People abhor cruelty to animals. You can ask judges which cases they receive the most mail on, and in most instances, they will say animal cruelty. Let your letter join the others. Let your voice be heard.

And, don´t forget to make use of the “letters to the editor” in your local paper to express your views.

Remember, these officials are elected. They care about what you think, so let them know. Let positive change for the animals in the judicial system begin with you.

Note: In the Fall 2002 newsletter, we relayed the story of Officers Quesnelle and Franklin from the New York Mills Police Department and their rescue of a Sheltie dog from a house so squalid that the code enforcement officer declared the house uninhabitable. We were unable to get an update by time the newsletter went to press, so we will brief you when we find out.


New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XVII, No.1, Spring 2003.