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Animal rights laws called lacking

Puppy Doe case cited by advocates

Suk Grindle, Lisa Murphy, and Toni Foley (left to right) at the courthouse during the defendant’s arraignment.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Suk Grindle, Lisa Murphy, and Toni Foley (left to right) at the courthouse during the defendant’s arraignment.

For the president of Boston’s Animal Rescue League, the arrest of animal abusers is just a first step.

Standing in front of Quincy District Court last Tuesday, minutes after the arraignment of a man accused of torturing a Quincy dog, Mary Nee outlined her organization’s investigation of more than 1,500 cases of animal abuse last year alone, saying that more needs to be done.

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“I think we need to look at how to make animal cruelty laws more effective,” she said into a bouquet of microphones. “But I think public awareness and people speaking up will be our strongest defense.”

There has been no scarcity of public awareness lately, after a severely malnourished and maimed pit bull appeared near a Quincy playground in late August.

Since then, hundreds have spoken up about the case, through tips to Quincy police, through messages on social media sites, and in vigils and protests around the city.

Radoslaw Czerkawski, a 32-year-old Polish immigrant, was arrested on Oct. 23 as the prime suspect in the case, putting the wheels of prosecution into motion. He has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of animal cruelty and one charge of misleading police.

While his case proceeds in court, the plight of the dog known as Puppy Doe could provide momentum to the updating of animal-cruelty laws, which were most recently amended in 2004.

“The fact of the matter is that our current animal cruelty laws . . . are not tough enough to cover this type of extreme inhumane behavior,” said state Representative Bruce Ayers, a Quincy Democrat. “In most cases, very minimal sentences or fines are charged against perpetrators.”

Current laws call for jail time of up to 2 ½ years in a house of correction, up to five years in a state prison, and/or up to $2,500 in fines for each cruelty offense.

Ayers has been working since January to implement change, increasing the fines as much as $5,000, and jail time to up to five years.

The bill is being reviewed by the Judiciary Committee, and Ayers wants people to call his office in support. “The next step in this case is continuing to engage and educate residents on how we can improve our laws and how we must do that, together,” he said.

Separately, state Representative Louis Kafka, a Stoughton Democrat, has sponsored a bill seeking prison sentences of up to 10 years for animal-cruelty offenses, and/or by a fine of as much as $25,000. He also has a pending bill to establish an animal-abuser registry.

Yet another bill have been filed by state Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican. Though still in the preliminary stage of deliberations, his Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety would allow animal welfare donations through tax forms, create a hotline and website for reporting animal cruelty, impose fines to veterinarians who do not report suspected animal abuse, and increase jail time to between five and possibly 15 years and fines from $2,500 to $30,000 for animal cruelty, depending on the number of offenses or their egregiousness.

The measure also would increase penalties for motorists who hit an animal and fail to report it, create a statewide registry of individuals convicted of animal-abuse crimes, create a commission to monitor animal cruelty, and allow police to enter properties without a warrant to stop animal death or severe injury.

The measure received support from many legislators, though some have withdrawn it because of the provision increasing police power.

Kafka said he hopes the various proposals can be combined into one bill.

“I’m hopeful we can do something — a combination of Bruce Ayers, Tarr, and myself sitting down with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and coming up with something that will more effective in fighting this type of crime,” Kafka said.

According to Quincy Police Chief Paul Keenan, laws strengthening jail stays would be more productive than increased fines.

He said tougher laws may not stop animal abuse, “but I think that people who do this type of thing — torture animals — are sick individuals, and I think if we increase the penalties, it may take them out of society a little longer.”

For other legislators, the biggest regulatory changes from “Puppy Doe” should be immigration laws.

“This guy shouldn’t have been in the country,” said state Representative Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican. “He shouldn’t have been given a visa with questionable background, number one. Secondly, he should have been long removed from the country for violating his immigration status to begin with.”

Quincy police said Czerkawski initially held a student visa, which became a tourist visa sometime last year and expired in September.

According to a spokesman with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, a detainer has been issued for Czerkawski, who will face deportation once he is scheduled for release.

However, the criminal process, including any jail time, would take precedence over deportation, said Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman.

Though Hedlund has not proposed immigration legislation in light of the Quincy case, he said it is another example of why reform is needed.

“The worst of the worst use our flimsy immigration laws to create havoc,” he said.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@
gmail.com.
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