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Katko bill would speed up court proceedings for abused animals

Tom Magnarelli
Brutus, a mastiff pit bull mix, at the DeWitt Animal Shelter.

A federal bill that would reduce the amount of time animals spend in shelters after being abused and neglected has support from animal rights advocates and elected officials in central New York. The legislation would speed up the legal process to reduce the burden on shelters and give abused animals new homes sooner.

Dogs like Brutus come into the DeWitt Animal Hospital for a variety of reasons. Brutus is a mastiff pit bull mix that was a stray and about 20 pounds underweight.

But it's the effects of dog fighting that really concerns Officer Rebecca Thompson with the Syracuse Police Department. She described the aftermath of what she calls a vicious, blood sport.

“Horrific wounds, bleeding profusely, some bleeding so much all you see is red and wondering if they’re even going to make it to the shelter,” Thompson said.

If they do survive, they can spend up to a year and a half in a shelter because dogs are treated as evidence in federal animal fighting and gambling statutes. Richard Patch with the ASPCA said that is too long.

“We’re unable to send the animals to foster homes," Patch said. "We’re unable to send them to rehabilitation centers. We can’t even spay or neuter the animals because of their status as a seized entity.”

The bill, introduced by central New York Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), would speed up court proceedings, require the court consider the welfare of the animal and shift the financial burden onto the individuals responsible.

Stephanie Heath with the 'Cuse Pit Crew is a supporter.

"What we really would like to see happen, as this legislation points out, is a cap put on so that we can say that at one point the dog needs to go somewhere other than the shelter, take the burden off of the costs related to the shelter and taxpayer dollars, and move them to a place where they can thrive and rehabilitate and they can feel well again," Heath said.

Katko said the bill has bipartisan support in the House and could be included in a larger asset forfeiture package.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.