New York State Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan announced this week that he’s proposing tougher animal abuse penalties. The legislation, which is being called, “Phoenix’s Law,” is named for a Jack Russell Terrier who was burned alive by two teenagers in October. “Phoenix” lived through the ordeal, but is still in a Buffalo animal hospital recovering from burns and broken bones.
According to a police investigation, on Oct. 29, two teenagers who had spent the previous weeks torturing a neighbor’s puppy, finally doused it in lighter fluid and set it on fire. Diondre L. Brown, 17, and his uncle, Adell Zeigler, 19, have both been indicted on felony charges, but under current law, neither can receive more than two years in prison for the felony attack.
Details of how Phoenix was rescued are unclear, but he sustained severe burns to more than 50 percent of his body. Over the last two months, Phoenix has undergone multiple skin grafts, had his ears amputated and one of his legs is still in a cast.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, New York's current animal abuse laws are fairly lenient in their punishments. The Empire State currently ranks in 38th place for animal protections. While New York carries a two-year maximum sentence, most states carry four-year sentences. But many are even more strict than that. In Idaho, felony animal abuse can send you away for 15 years, while a felony conviction in Colorado will earn you six years in prison, and a half-a-million dollar fine. The most lax states are North and South Dakota where animal abuse doesn’t even rank as a felony.
Perhaps most frightening of all is the lack of remorse shown by the defendants, each of whom blames the other for setting Phoenix on fire. TakePart has previously reported on the well-documented patterns of animal abusers; they are as much a danger to other people as they are to pets. And when we treat their violence towards animals as somehow “less than,” we ignore crucial warning signs to our own safety.
As Phoenix continues to heal, The Buffalo Small Animal Hospital reports to local newspapers that it’s been flooded with offers of donations and adoptions for the invincible little dog.