Animal Laws and You
An Animal Rights Article from


Constance Young
November 2003

Did you know that leaving your dog off the leash is a prosecutable offense under many local “leash laws” and that in some cases it could lead to your dog being seized?Or that if you leave your dog off the leash and he bites someone and causes "serious physical injury," you could be fined up to $800 in Civil court plus other charges? (If that dog had a prior record as a “dangerous dog,” the fine is $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both.) Finally, did you know that under the 1999 law known as “Buster’s Bill”—named after an 18-month-old tabby cat who was doused with kerosene and burned to death by a Schenectady teenager in 1997— a person who intentionally kills or seriously injures a “household pet” in New York State is guilty of a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine?

If you did not know the answers to this short quiz you are not alone. Laws that protect animals and humans from each other are among our community’s best-kept secrets. Knowledge is power, and ignorance of the law can result in mistreatment of an animal—or you. If you’ve ever been terrorized by a large free roaming dog while walking your own dog, you understand why these laws are important. They are meant to protect innocent people and their domestic and household animals from other animals and their careless or abusive human keepers. When the laws are enforced (which takes knowledge and a willingness to report offenders to the appropriate agency, usually the dog warden and/or SPCA), theycan do just that. [I changed the long sentence into two sentences. If you prefer, it's OK of you change it back. I'll leave it up to you.]

The laws in question are almost always state or local legislation; since Federal laws regarding animals generally have a wider scope and primarily affect wildlife, migratory animals, and animals used for research or commerce.

Every Living Creature Except a Human Being

In New York State, the Agriculture and Markets Act governs “licensing, rabies shots, identification and control of dogs” with some provisions for cats and other “domestic animals,” which the law defines as “animals who are normally maintained in or near the household of the person who cares for such animals.” Domestic animals can include horses, llamas, ducks, goats, or any other animals not defined as “farm animals,” which are defined as “animals raised for subsistence or commercial purposes.”

This Law also addresses neglect, cruelty and abuse of animals “whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to himself or to another.”

A recent case described in the September 18, 2003 issue of the Rhinebeck Gazette Advertiser shows the power of this law in action. Responding to a tip from a concerned individual, the Dutchess County SPCA and the Sheriff's office conducted an extensive investigation of a farm operated by Red Hook resident Battista Mazzotta. They found that the animals under Mazzotta's care were not provided proper sustenance. Mazzotta was charged with four counts of cruelty to animals. According to Douglas Niederkorn, Supervising Humane Law Enforcement Officer for the Dutchess County SPCA, Mazzotta was jailed with a cash bail of $1,500 or $5,000 bond, and the three thoroughbred horses and one quarter horse that had been under his care were placed in foster care. According to Niederkorn, this was the second arrest within six months in Dutchess County in which horses were the victims of cruelty.

What is "Cruelty"?

Many of the more than 300 cases a month that the Dutchess SPCA handles are cases of animal cruelty said Niederkorn. These cases involve "any act omitted or committed against animals." He added that the SPCA has recently hired two part-time humane officers because of the overwhelming number of calls they receive.

As a guideline for possible cruelty and abuse cases, Niederkorn developed an investigational technique called PAWS. “P” stands for physical abuse, such as beating a dog or other animal. “A” stands for attention. Does the animal get sufficient attention? Is it cared for properly and in a loving manner? For example, are sheep being sheared in the summer? Are the animal’s toenails clipped? “W” stands for water: Is the animal getting clean, fresh water? And “S” stands for “shelter.”

New State Law: “Adequate Shelter”

My prime impetus for writing this article is to let people know about a new and important bill that Governor George Pataki has just signed into law. Article 343 B—“Adequate Shelter”—now makes it illegal for dog owners to leave their dogs outside in “inclement weather” without providing access to a cleanly kept structure with a waterproof roof and adequate insulation and space. If the shelter is not deemed appropriate, the dog can be seized. The new law also requires dog owners to provide for natural or artificial shade if the animal is restrained outdoors.

Dutchess SPCA's Douglas Niederkorn is excited about the new law. "This will make it much easier for us," he said. “Before this, a dog had to be clearly suffering unjustifiable physical pain before we could do anything.” Because the law specifically addresses only dogs, however, Niederkorn thinks that eventually it will have to be broadened to include other domestic animals such as horses and goats.

Governor Pataki also recently signed another bill that provides immunity from liability to veterinarians who report suspected cases of animal cruelty in good faith. And there is other hope for animals on the horizon; various Westchester legislators will soon be sponsoring legislation to enhance animal cruelty laws, in the aftermath of the discovery of over 150 animals in a Mount Vernon warehouse who died after being deprived of food and water.

Other Protections in the Law

Among other provisions in the Agriculture & Markets Act are prohibitions against animal fighting, throwing a substance injurious to animals in a public place, giving live animals as prizes, selling disabled horses, and operating on tails of horses. The Law also sets requirements for the transportation of horses and the sale of baby chicks and baby rabbits and, in Article 7, Section 117 mandates a program of animal population control.

I'll spare you the statistics, but anyone who lives in a big city or near a farm sees sickly stray cats and emaciated dogs running wild on a regular basis. There is a huge animal overpopulation problem in New York. In the U.S. about 4 to 6 million animals are killed each year because there are no homes for them. The State has some provisions for low-cost spaying and neutering in specific cases. Not all veterinarians will tell you about the program, so just ask them if you are eligible. Otherwise, low-cost or free spay and neutering can be found elsewhere. Go to for a listing. If you don't have access to the web, contact the Dutchess SPCA (845-452-1654) to ask about their low-cost spay/neuter clinic. In Ulster County, contact the Ulster SPCA at 845-331-5377. In Columbia County, contact AnimalKind, PO Box 902, Hudson, NY 12534, or phone 518-943-7654 for information about their clinics. For national programs contact Friends of Animals (800-321-7387) or Spay/USA (800-248-SPAY or 203-377-1116)

To find out more about the State laws regarding animals contact your legislator or download The New York State Consolidated Laws from the New York State Assembly website and

Local Animal Laws

Local laws vary depending on the community.

• Rhinebeck: The “leash law” for the Town of Rhinebeck Code (Article 1, Sections 63-1 and 63-2) states that a person “harboring a dog” should “control or confine” the dog so that it cannot “bite, jump upon or otherwise injure any person” who is not trespassing on the premises, causing harm to the dog's owner, or otherwise provoking the dog. Other prohibitions include a dog’s habitual barking or howling, chasing deer; or killing or injuring domestic animals . [NOTE: It is the dog killing being addressed here]

• Red Hook: Law requires leashing of dogs, but does not address barking. Pine Plains's and Rhinebeck's laws also address barking dogs. Margaret Doty, Town Clerk, claims that Red Hook gets a lot of complaints about dogs barking when they are tied outside, and in such cases the town follows the New York State law, which prohibits dog barking before sunrise and after sunset.

• Milan: The Town of Milan’s “Dog Control Local Law” (Article III, Sections 97-7) does not require leashing, but has specific recommendation regarding control of dogs “at large” (dogs who are unleashed on public or private property). Such dogs must not chase, harass, or intimidate people or other animals or cause an individual to have a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or injury.

• Pine Plains: Requires leashing and prohibits excessive dog barking.

For other towns, contact the Town Clerk

Reprinted by permission from: Winter 2003-2004 isue of AboutTown (The Community, Guide to Rhinebeck, Red Hook & Tivoli)

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