A cat owner who did not seek treatment for his pet's serious ailments during the cat's last year of life can be charged with animal cruelty, a Manhattan judge has ruled.
Allegations that the defendant left a "swollen and bleeding" paw and other conditions untreated "sufficiently demonstrate that the animal was subjected to unjustifiable physical pain," Criminal Court Judge ShawnDya L. Simpson wrote in People v. Walsh, 2007NY022001.
Henry I. Weil, attorney for Martin Walsh, said the 15-year-old house cat became sick over time and was at "the tail end of its life span."
While Walsh loved the cat, which he had had since it was a kitten, he recognized that "it was time to let it go," according to Weil.
In January 2007, Walsh took the cat to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to be euthanized, Weil added. Three months later, he was charged with animal cruelty, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, under §353 of the Agriculture and Markets Law.
The statute imposes criminal liability on "a person who overdrives, overloads, tortures or cruelly beats or unjustifiably injures ... any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, food or drink ... or who ... instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal."
According to the decision, the allegations did not establish that Walsh deprived the cat of food and water. Walsh maintained that medical care does not amount to "necessary sustenance" and moved to dismiss the charge.
Judge Simpson rejected the motion, saying the allegations against Walsh set forth a "prima facie" case that his "act of omission" was unjustifiable.
While Simpson agreed that the "ordinary meaning" of the term "necessary sustenance" does not encompass medical treatment, she held that Walsh's failure to provide such treatment caused the cat to suffer "unjustifiable physical pain," bringing the lack of care within the statute's prohibition of torture.
Section 350 of the law defined "torture" and "cruelty" as "every act, omission, or neglect, that causes or permits an animal to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or death."
According to the decision, the cat suffered from a number of maladies, including dehydration, emaciation and a "readily visible" "swollen and bleeding" right-front paw, which was the result of an untreated tumor.
The accusatory instrument quotes Walsh as admitting that he had owned the cat for 15 years and never took him to the veterinarian.
"I noticed the paw was like that. It has been like that for a year," he said.
The cat also had a polyp in its nasal passage that made it difficult for it to breathe and allegedly suffered from chronic periodontal, liver and kidney diseases.
"[I]t is difficult to conclude at this stage that the physical condition the animal was allegedly permitted to suffer was justifiable," the judge concluded.
If Walsh was unable to care for the cat due to financial or other reasons, he had the option of surrendering it to the ASPCA, the judge said. But the judge noted that the defendant had offered no justification for permitting the animal to suffer for more than a year. And she observed that Walsh could offer such a justification at trial.
Darryl M. Vernon of Vernon & Ginsburg, a veteran member of the New York City Bar's animal law committee who is not involved in the case, praised Simpson's decision.
While Vernon acknowledged that the case might lead some people to hide evidence of animal neglect for fear of prosecution, he said it served "the greater good" by making it clear that "you can't get an animal and treat him [or] her like a TV."
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gihuly prosecuted the case.
Walsh is scheduled to take a plea on April 16.