Connecticut Bill Gives Abused Animals Their Own Attorney

Connecticut Bill Gives Abused Animals Their Own Attorney

(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Each year, thousands of people are charged in animal cruelty cases for abusing their pets or other animals, but many of those charges don’t result in trial or conviction.

But that’s about to change in Connecticut.

The bill, which has passed overwhelmingly by state lawmakers, would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to appoint “animal advocates” to assist courts in deciding animal cruelty cases. The new measure would allow judges to choose pro-bono lawyers or law students to represent the victims (in this case, animals) by gathering witness testimony, records from police, animal control and veterinarians.

If signed by Gov. Dan Malloy, the legislation would be a huge victory for animal rights, and allow courts to adequately prosecute offenders and prevent future abuse.

“Animal cruelty is still somewhat under-prioritized by the court system because it’s ‘just an animal,'” says state Rep. Diana Urban, who wrote the bill known as Desmond’s Law, named for a dog that was found strangled to death by his owner in 2012.

The high-profile case galvanized activists who believed the owner didn’t receive appropriate punishment: He completed a rehab course and his record was then sealed by the court.

“There was no question in anyone’s mind that he would get jail time,” said Urban. But when he didn’t, “a lot of people said, ‘This has got to stop.’”

The Desmond case was typical for the state at the time: In Connecticut, 82 percent of people charged with animal cruelty either have their cases thrown out or are sent to rehabilitation. Animal rights groups say that rehab often amounts to periodic check-ins with a supervisor or possibly community service, and that the program isn’t tailored to address cases of animal violence.

The new law could potentially lead to faster rulings and more convictions because it would let judges designate a single person to gather information about a case and present it all at once.

In Connecticut, Desmond’s Law passed both state legislative chambers easily, 119-24 in the House and 34-2 in the Senate. Now it’s up to Gov. Malloy to do the right thing!