Advocating for Dogs in Court
by Rob English
Imagine that the dog next door is being abused by its owner. Some angel reports the abuse to the police who send their Animal Cruelty officer to investigate, and yes, the officer agrees that the law is being broken with respect to the animal. A citation is issued requiring that the accused offender appear before a judge.
In court, the accused offender may have a lawyer represent him. The County district attorney will send a lawyer to prosecute the accused on behalf of society. A judge will hear both sides and apply the law to the case. Ultimately the accused may be found innocent and go free, or may be found guilty and fined or jailed.
What will happen to the dog? In many cases the animal victim of the suspected abuse will be taken from the accused until a verdict is reached, and if the accused is found guilty the animal may be taken away for good. In either case the dog may languish in a veterinary setting or animal shelter for a long time, often confused and fearful and in deteriorating mental condition. In general, the office of the district attorney has its hands full dealing with the PEOPLE involved in criminal cases and has no time to visit animal hospitals to check on the dogs involved.
But in Onondaga County there is a large group of lawyers who understand the problem and volunteer to advocate on behalf of the dog in abuse cases. The group, VALAC (Volunteer Advocate Lawyer for Animal Abuse Court), assures that the dog has a powerful court-approved advocate – an actual lawyer who will advise the court with respect to the animal’s condition and needs.
From the Onondaga County Bar Association VALAC is “an ‘animal law guardian,’ who is responsible for monitoring the legal status of an abused animal from the moment an appearance ticket has been issued. The VALAC monitors the health and emotional status of the abused animal, and assesses ownership issues; if necessary, the VALAC will seek termination of ownership rights. The VALAC will then provide this information to the Court, the District Attorney’s office, and to the Defense Attorney.”
How good that the organization is growing into other counties in New York! So far in several dozens of cases, dogs who would have been euthanized arising from the crimes against them have been saved, healed, rehabilitated, and placed with loving homes, thanks to the lawyers and supporters of VALAC. Check out the photos of many of them from VALAC’s public Facebook page.
If you are the angel who wants to report about a dog who is abused, starved, neglected, left out in the cold, or otherwise mistreated, Thank you! You can call these numbers for help:
Animal Cruelty Hotline: (315) 442-5336
City of Syracuse Dog Control: (315) 473-6608
Syracuse Pit Crew (dog rescue): http://cusepitcrew.org
Rob is a member of People for Animal Rights, a grassroots organization in Central New York,
Contact People for Animal Rights
P.O. Box 3333
Syracuse, NY 13220