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The Legal Beagle
Legal Pet Topics Heat Up In New York
Summer is traditionally a slower time for legislators, as opposed to the fall. With some spare time on their hands, it's a perfect time to write lawmakers and let them know how you feel about a piece of legislation--and how you, their constituent, think they should vote on it. Here's a brief round up of just some of the current hot topics that have the potential to impact pets and pet-owner in New York City and state.
Three Hot TopicsIntro 189 - Pet Ownership and Apartment Dwellers In New York City
A perennial "favorite" among New York City residents is a law that supporters say would clarify and strengthen the rights of responsible pet owners. Currently called Intro 189, the ASPCA describes this measure as providing tenants with the ability to have animals during their entire tenancy in an apartment. This would apply to all animals in the home, without risking enforcement of the no-pet provision by the landlord each time. The nuisance exception contained in existing law would always apply, so that an animal could be removed if it was causing substantial harm to others or destruction of property.
So why has Intro 189 been stalled in committee since late February? The ASPCA says landlords and the real estate industry are waging powerful opposition to the bill. Supporters are urged to call Councilwoman Melinda Katz (District 29, Queens), who is spearheading the bill, and co-sponsors Eric Gioia (District 26, Queens) and Miguel Martinez (District 10, Manhattan). It wouldn't hurt to contact New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who is said to still need convincing. Write them at The New York City Council, City Hall, New York, NY 10007 or call (212) 788-7100.
If you are already having a pet-tenant issue, contact Talisha Taylor, Administrative Assistant of the Government Affairs & Public Policy Department at email@example.com. Or write her at 424 E. 92nd St., NYC, NY 10128-6804 (between 1st and York Aves.). Or, call (212) 876-7700.
Elijah's Law - Not Just Rotties; All Dogs Are Dangerous
New York Assembly Bill 10169 (otherwise known as "Elijah's Law") is being championed by Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera. The bill is named after Elijah Torres, a 3-year-old Bronx boy who was seriously attacked late last year by what was reportedly a Rottweiler, though some have disputed this claim. Several other dog attacks on children throughout the city followed.
Opponents to this bill have made for interesting bedfellows; rescue groups and purebreed groups alike are in strong opposition to it. That's because the actual legislative text of the bill goes well beyond what many commonly think it will do. The majority public perception seems to be that it would require owners of "dangerous breeds" to make adequate provision for the protection of their neighbors, including taking out liability insurance based on their breed's potential to do harm.
Actually, the bill in its current form goes far beyond that. It would require every-yes, every-dog owner in the state (adopters and purchasers alike) to obtain liability insurance for the dog at the time they acquire or license them. (Owners of dogs deemed "dangerous" by the state's Department of Agriculture would have to pay higher premiums, but that is the only substantial difference.)
Furthermore, dogs would have to wear an orange tag at all times indicating they are insured; non-compliance could mean fines and loss of the dog. "Rather than promote responsible dog ownership, as public education can, A10169 may actually encourage some dog owners to abandon their pets rather than go through the hassle and expense of complying with requirements," the American Kennel Club says about this bill. AKC also says such a state-mandated program will be costly and difficult to enforce and place undue burdens on responsible sellers and rescue groups.
The ASPCA supports a toned-down version of Elijah's Law. The alternative, A.6635-B/S.5910-B, sponsored by Assembly Member Paul Tonko and Senator George Maziarz. "does not single out specific breeds of dogs to be designated as "dangerous" but rather focuses on the behavior of the individual dog, regardless of breed," they say. However, it would expand the current "dangerous dog" law to cover not just situations where dogs attack or threaten people, but also those situations where dogs attack or threaten other companion animals or farm animals. It would also increase penalties for violations of the dangerous dog law and create a registry for monitoring dogs that are found dangerous.
An Owner By Any Other Name? Not Quite
At presstime, In Defense of Animals (IDA) was celebrating the decision of another city in the U.S. to officially adopt the word "guardian" as opposed to "owner" to define a person's relationship with their companion animal. The new addition was Wanaque, New Jersey, located just over the river in North Jersey's Passaic County. Wanaque joins ten other cities nationwide and the entire state of Rhode Island in deciding to officially adopt the term. Supporters like IDA and New York's own Rational Animal pet advocacy group say the word "guardian" more closely reflects the relationship people now have with their companion animals, giving it much needed validity.
Other pet advocates, however, including several in the veterinary medical community, are not so sure. In fact, some are downright worried that adopting the term "guardian" over "owner" in regards to pets will open a can of worms in relation to people having pets at all. The California Veterinary Medical Association, for example, said such a change "will lead to confusion and create a quagmire of legal issues for the courts, government, veterinarians, and families with pets [and] jeopardize the readily available health care delivery system for animals by unnecessary legal delays." Many California cities, including San Francisco, have adopted the term anyway. Still, there may be something to the legal ramifications of guardianship v. ownership. In addition to adopting the guardian terminology, Wanaque simultaneously passed a provision that will make it illegal for anyone to be a "guardian" to more than three cats or dogs at a time. Woodstock, New York is the only municipality in the state to have officially adopted the guardian term. For more information on IDA's position, visit http://www.guardinacampaign.org/guardiancity.
Do you have a legal question for Ms. Copeland? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. She may answer it in a future issue of New York Tails!
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