In late January, 18-year-old Asa Palmer of North Stonington discovered that two of his family farms’ cows had been shot in the face. A neighbor told him he’d heard five gunshots the night before. One of the heifers, Angel, had to be euthanized.
A classmate of Palmer’s at Wheeler High School was arrested last month and faces a slew of charges, including first-degree reckless endangerment and cruelty to animals. Two other classmates face lesser charges for their role in the attack.
State Representative Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, a lawmaker known for her animal rights activism, is pointing to this case as another example of why animal cruelty needs to be taken more seriously in the courts. Late last month, Urban proposed a bill that would allow for the appointment of a court advocate to act on behalf of an animal whose welfare or custody is the subject of a civil or criminal court proceeding. She said the advocates’ purpose would aim "to be sure the extent of the injuries is made obvious to the judge."
"Too many times I have seen these cases nolled or given accelerated rehabilitation and the connection to future violent behavior basically swept under the rug," said Urban. "The research is irrefutable, there is a connection between animal cruelty and future violent behavior and [the future violence] is usually against a child or a domestic partner. Eighty percent of school shooters started with animal cruelty."
Though details are still being worked out, Urban’s measure calls for allowing the appointment of someone like a state Department of Agriculture veterinarian to act as a court advocate on behalf of any animal whose welfare or custody is the subject of a civil or criminal court proceeding.
"We are putting together a public/private partnership with the state Department of Agriculture and non-profit rescue groups, including Connecticut Votes For Animals to be available to speak for the animals in court," said Urban.
Urban said the partnership would be set up so that there would not be any cost to the state for the animal advocates appearing in court. "If this law was in place today, Asa Palmer could request an advocate for his young cow, Angel," said Urban.
The proposal has been referred to the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. A public hearing date has not been scheduled.
Several other lawmakers have already voiced their support for the measure. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, said she talked to Urban in 2011 after a man stabbed a puppy 29 times. "The case again was not being taken seriously in the court," opined Kupchick.
The man, Alexander Bernard, 26, of New Haven, was sentenced by Meriden Superior Court Judge Philip Scarpellino to four months in jail.
"We thought to ourselves there’s something wrong here. It’s not being conveyed in a way it should be conveyed to the judge," continued Kupchick. "This poor defenseless animal is just like a child. It can’t speak, it can’t defend itself and can’t advocate for itself. The judge just seemed to let it go."
Just last year, Rhode Island enacted a law similar to what Urban is proposing.
The law allows the director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to designate a department veterinarian to act as an animal advocate in any court proceeding in which the custody or well-being of an animal is at issue. The legislation also allows a representative of the Rhode Island affiliate of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to serve in the same capacity.
The bill’s biggest advocate in Rhode Island, Democrat state Senator John Tassoni Jr., said at the time that "judges are not getting the correct information from a prosecutor. They should get that information from the person who does an investigation, from an advocate whose goal is to ensure the welfare of the animal."
Tassoni added: "If the eventual welfare of a pet is being determined by a human being sitting on a court bench, those dogs or cats need a human to recommend how they should be treated." •