Massachusetts lawmakers stiffen animal cruelty penalties
Nearly a year after a pit bull dubbed Puppy Doe was discovered starving and tortured in Quincy, animal-rights advocates are applauding the Legislature’s approval of tougher criminal penalties for animal cruelty.
Spurred by public outrage over the dog’s horrific beating and mutilation, legislators sent Governor Deval Patrick a bill last week to lengthen prison sentences and convene a task force to review the state’s handling of animal abuse.
“These are felonies, these are very serious crimes, and I think the penalties should reflect that,” said Mary Nee, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Under the bill, the maximum sentence for a first offense increases to seven years from five. Subsequent offenses carry a penalty of up to 10 years. Fines also increase, to $5,000 from $2,500 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for subsequent offenses.
Patrick is expected to sign the legislation, said Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican who sponsored the bill.
“There was a tremendous outpouring to do something substantive in the wake of Puppy Doe,” said Rob Halpin, spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell.
The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and House, requires veterinarians to notify authorities when they suspect animal abuse. In addition, a task force to include members from animal-rights groups, law enforcement, and veterinary medicine will assess the state’s efforts to prevent and respond to animal cruelty.
Tarr said tougher penalties are needed because “we continue to see too many acts of heinous brutality against animals.” In Gloucester, for example, a dead pit bull was cut open in 2012 to retrieve heroin that the pet had ingested before overdosing.
The legislation takes aim at serial offenders by increasing the penalty for second and subsequent crimes. Under current law, that does not exist.
The just-approved legislation, Tarr said, “sends a very clear message that this is a serious crime and there can be serious consequences for committing it, particularly in the second-offense category.”
The public clamor that led to the bill shows “Puppy Doe made a large and permanent crack in the status quo,” Halpin said.
Before the case, he said, “animal rescue and welfare organizations were steadily working to chip away at animal cruelty in the state, largely unnoticed,” Halpin said. “It’s almost like we’re in this period in animal cruelty that’s ‘before Puppy Doe’ and ‘after Puppy Doe.’ ”
The female pit bull, purchased for $40 through Craigslist, had been beaten so severely that the dog could barely move after being found in the street on Aug. 31.
The 2-year-old weighed about half its normal weight, had been stabbed in the eye, burned on the nose, and her tongue had been split.
The animal was euthanized because of the severity of her injuries.
The Animal Rescue League performed a necropsy and cited the dog’s suffering as evidence that animal cruelty should trigger stiffer penalties.
Nee said a strong connection has been established between acts of animal cruelty and violence overall.
“The extent of these injuries meant that we had a very dangerous individual out there,” Nee said.
Quincy police received a flurry of tips and tracked the dog’s 32-year-old owner to a hotel in New Britain, Conn., where he was arrested on Oct. 23.
The suspect, Radoslaw Czerkawski, had been working in Quincy as a live-in caretaker for an elderly woman, who died the same day the dog was found.
Czerkawski faces 12 charges in the animal cruelty case and has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Norfolk Superior Court. Authorities did not suspect foul play in the woman’s death.
A Polish national, Czerkawski had been living in the United States on an expired tourist visa at the time of his arrest and is subject to deportation, Quincy and federal officials said.