Recovering puppy inspires anti-abuse law

New York may start the new year by turning over a new leaf when it comes to their animal cruelty laws. The state is considering a new law that would toughen the punishments for perpetrators of animal abuse.

Phoenix, the dog whose story of abuse prompted Phoenix’s Law. (Photo credit: Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Lawmakers are calling the legislation “Phoenix’s Law” in honor of a Jack Russell Terrier who was rescued in mid-October after two teens, 17-year-old Diondre Brown and 19-year-old Adell Ziegler, allegedly hung the 16-week-old pup from a tree and set him on fire. Brown admitted to serving as lookout while Ziegler carried out the monstrous act.

Firefighters rushed Phoenix to the Buffalo Small Animal Hospital after Buffalo resident and horrified witness Mary Baldwin frantically contacted authorities to report what she’d seen.

“I will never, ever, as long as I live, forget that,”Baldwin told WIVB.“No, I won’t. I will not ever.”

Dr. Rebecca Wagner, the veterinarian who treated Phoenix’s injuries, believes that an accelerant like lighter fluid was used in the attack.

“It had a smell to it, and odor to it,” Wagner explained.“And the dog was singed really from head to toe.”

With third degree burns covering nearly half of his body, Phoenix’s case was one of the worst Wagner has ever seen in her career. His eyes were swollen shut, his hair almost completely burnt off, and his ears are still crinkled and scarred from the flames.

The acts of abuse Phoenix had to endure were so heinous that even the most seasoned law enforcement officers could barely find words.

“No rhyme, no reason,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said of the horrific crimes against the young pup. “Despicable, that’s how I describe it.”

After a number of skin grafts, reconstructive surgeries, and a lot of TLC, Phoenix is now doing well. But those who have heard of his sad story are determined to prevent similar acts of cruelty against animals in the future.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-144) and his constituents were horrified when they heard Phoenix’s story. Research shows that New York places 38th out of 50 states when it comes to laws that deter crimes against animals.

“The public wants to see something done,” Ryan tells WKBW,“and New York’s law is just antiquated. We haven’t updated it and we fell behind.”

Determined to change the statistics and save the lives of animal companions in the Empire State, Assemblyman Ryan is promoting stricter punishments for those convicted of abusing animals. “Phoenix’s Law” would increase prison sentences from two to four years and court-mandated fines from $5,000 to $10,000, essentially doubling the current penalties for people convicted of felony animal cruelty.

“Laws like this are proven to be a deterrent,” says Ryan,“and that’s why the national animal groups are focusing on this. They rank New York so low because the current law lacks any deterrence.”

The new law would also require that juveniles convicted of animal abuse undergo psychological evaluation and treatment, The Buffalo News reports.

“We’re hoping that, just as Phoenix rises from the ashes, we can have something positive that can comes out of this heinous act,”Assemblyman Ryan declared during a gathering at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.

The legislature is expected to convene in January to put “Phoenix’s Law” up for a vote. If you would like to show your support, please consider signing the “Phoenix’s Law” petition, which has already gained over 10,000 signatures from animal advocates across the nation and around the globe.