Last year, Connecticut enacted “Desmond’s Law” a law that made it the first state to allow judges to appoint lawyers and law students as advocates for dogs and cats in cases of cruelty, abuse and neglect. Similar roles have been established in courts at the county level, and Rhode Island enacted a law in 2012 allowing veterinarians to serve as advocates, but this is to my knowledge the first State-wide law appoint lawyers or law students to serve as advocates for animals. The Connecticut law was named for and motivated by the case of “Desmond,” a dog that the authorities said was beaten, starved and eventually strangled and thrown in a dump by his owner. The case mobilized animal activists, who were incensed after Desmond’s owner was placed in an accelerated rehabilitation program in 2013.This just proves my theory that laws named after people (or now pets) are rarely a good idea. Folks end up getting legislation passed to right one particularly heinous wrong but then that law is applied to much lesser examples of the same type of charge.
Who could argue with animals having someone to advocate for their rights in court- after all we have such positions for children and for the mentally disabled. The answer is Me, I can argue with it because I disagree with it, especially as it is applied in Connecticut. I have already written a blog article saying that comfort dogs for witnesses is a bad idea, so why not keep up the anti-dog rant. It’s not that I am anti-dog its that I am against anti-dog-activists pushing the criminal justice system for harsher penalties for crimes when they are not properly trained to to weigh in on such matters. Connecticut has left this important task to a hodgepodge of volunteers, many of them from an organization called “Desmond’s Army,” including a horse farm manager, a retired I.T. worker and a teacher who considers showing up to court hearings her summer job. The group was founded by Christine Kiernan, who helped organize Desmond’s Army after the case. According to the NY Times article on this issue, in one week, Ms. Kiernan “crisscrossed the state to attend three different court dates, always in the group’s signature purple shirt with a photograph of Desmond.” What training do these folks have to assess what led to the treatment the dog received; whether the defendant has mental health issues; whether the dog was seriously ill before the defendant was arrested;or whether the defendant could afford veterinary care. Or where the offense charged fits in with the overall criminal justice system.
The folks administering this program are not objective – they are activists, with an agenda. Again from the Times: “Supporters say that many of these crimes go unprosecuted or result in punishments they contend are too lenient, such as rehabilitation programs that can end with charges being expunged. ‘What I really, really wanted to do was get at those numbers of convictions,’ said Representative Diana Urban, a Democratic state lawmaker who sponsored the legislation. Guardian ad litems for children and the disabled are not part of the criminal justice system. They are only appointed in custody or probate cases to make sure the rights of the young or mentally incompetent are protected. The prosecutor is the person the system relies upon to give the court the victim’s perspective. Adding a voice for a pet sounds like a nice idea, but if that person is only there to consistently advocate for harsh sentences for the accused, then it is unfair and unwise. A person charged with a scandalous crime like animal abuse is already facing an uphill battle the minute they walk into court. Added pressure from “Desmond’s Army” now armed with court authority tips the scales of justice too much against the accused. Moreover, they often advocate for taking the dog away from the accused, leading to opposition to the law, including from groups such as the American Kennel Club, which opposed the statute because, as the club said in a statement, “individual owners could lose these ownership rights over their animals by having to give up those rights to third parties.”
If the court system seems too lenient against animal abusers, then meet with the local prosecutor and make your position known. Write your legislator for tougher sentence guidelines. You want to appoint a trained veterinarian to assess the status of the abused dog to see whether it can be treated, rehabilitated or needs to be euthanized – as was done by the Federal court in the Michael Vick case – of course. But having a second advocate in the courtroom arguing against the defendant is a burden that should not be placed on someone accused of a crime.
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