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MORE TEETH SOUGHT IN CRUELTY LAWS

By WIL FULTON

Animal cruelty stands as one of the sad realities of life. Every day, our televisions, news sites, and social media feeds carry images and stories of animal neglect, abuse and abandonment. Last week, redbankgreen reported on puppies suspected of having been dumped in Shrewsbury, no owner in sight.

Red Bank’s mayor and council think offenders of cruelty prevention laws need to hear a stronger message of condemnation. Last week, they endorsed a resolution that asks state legislators to rachet up the penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty.

“Unfortunately we live in a society that is showing a great deal of insensitivity for those who don’t have a voice for themselves,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. “We have regulations and laws in place, but I think that, frankly, the time has come for our legislators in Trenton to look at those bills that deal with cases and incidents of animal cruelty, and ask that they be upgraded.”

According to Menna the maximum penalty for animal cruelty convictions is a disorderly persons offense in municipal court. He said it’s time to upgrade the status to a felony, particularly if the animal is severely injured or hurt, with the potential for prison time for those convicted.

Menna also commented on the common penalty of a four-year forfeiture of animal ownership, which he sees as a non-solution to the animal cruelty problem.

“As far as I’m concerned, the type of person that would harm a defenseless animal like that has problems that won’t be fixed in just four years, and I don’t think they should have the right to own another animal. They’ve already proven they aren’t capable,” he told redbankgreen. “Our society has evolved in a way that we are now more sensitive to things we might not have been years ago, and it’s time our laws reflect that. We need to protect our most vulnerable.”

Referring to the five dogs, including four puppies, rescued in Shrewsbury last week by Animal Control Officer Henry Perez, Menna said that the Associated Humane Society and the SPCA “would gladly have taken them” from the person who apparently abandoned them.

But Republican council candidate Cindy Burnham called out from the audience that those agencies require individuals  to pay $100 fees to turn in animals, which is why cash-strapped owners take the abandonment route. Menna’s reaction suggested he was unaware of the fee.

Councilwoman Sharon Lee said she supported the resolution “wholeheartedly,” while noting that factors such as the mortgage crisis and the effects of Hurricane Sandy have led more pets than ever to be abandoned and neglected.

“The shelters are overwhelmed with the amount of animals being abandoned,” Lee said. “In a town like Red Bank, it’s congested, people move around a lot, and they leave animals – it’s particularly important.”

“Mahatma Ghandi said years ago, that the way an educated society cares and looks out for those who have the least voice –  namely our animals – reflects on the level of civility in that society,” Menna said. “This isn’t a hypothetical issue, it’s happening in our own backyard, and I think we have to get serious about this.”

Here’s the resolution in draft form: RB reso 13-95

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