In 1997, Chester Williamson committed an act of murder. He approached Buster, soaked him in kerosene, lit a match, then proceeded to burn Buster alive. Chester’s punishment for these heinous acts was not jail, but he was sentenced to three years of probation.
Chester was prosecuted in the New York Court system and found guilty of a mere misdemeanor. Why was Chester’s punishment so minor? Because Buster was a cat. In 2008, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) categorized all fifty states into three tiers which ranked each state’s animal cruelty laws from best to worst—the top tier being the most protective of animals and the bottom tier being the least protective. New York fell into the middle tier. Currently, all fifty states have some type of animal cruelty laws. Moreover, forty-six of fifty states, as well as Washington D.C., make certain types of animal cruelty a felony. Most states only apply felony animal cruelty laws to specific types of crimes against certain species of animals. New York makes aggravated cruelty to animals a felony under Article 26 of its Agriculture and Markets Laws. While there are several reasons why ALDF ranked New York in the middle tier of its report, there are also several actions that New York can take to move into the top tier. This Comment will examine the purpose behind New York’s felony animal cruelty law and how local courts interpret the complex wording in the statute. This Comment will also determine whether the law is serving its purpose and what the state of New York can do to better implement its law. Sections II and III will explain the history of animal cruelty laws in general and the specific purposes that the State of New York is attempting to accomplish with its felony animal cruelty law. Section IV will explain the difficulties that New York prosecutors face when trying to interpret New York’s statute and prosecute animal cruelty cases. Finally, in Section V, I will suggest several ways that could help New York properly implement its felony animal cruelty law.