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Toughening penalties if pets are harmed during crimes

MARY ESCH
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In this Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 photo, Denise Krohn sits in her living room in Florida, N.Y., with Tedi, sister to one of Krohn's two goldendoodles that were shot dead during a burglary a year ago at her home in rural upstate New York. Krohn is pushing for "Kirby and Quigley's Law," legislation named after her slain pets that would make it a felony punishable by two years in prison and a $5,000 fine to kill a dog or cat while committing another serious crime. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

FLORIDA, N.Y. (AP) — When Denise Krohn came home to find her goldendoodle Kirby bleeding on the kitchen floor, she at first thought it was a terrible accident. But she soon realized that her home had been ransacked, and that her other dog, Quigley, was lying dead on his favorite blanket in the living room.

Burglars who tore through her hilltop farmhouse north of Albany made off with several televisions, a laptop, some cheap jewelry and change. And, police say, they apparently shot her friendly, goofy dogs on their way out the door.

"It was just a mean, nasty thing," Krohn said.

A year later, the crime remains unsolved. But what bothers Krohn is that police told her that if someone is caught, they would likely get 25 years in jail for burglary, but no additional punishment for killing the dogs.

"It's just not right," she said. "I don't care about the TVs and other stuff. What hurts us every day is losing our dogs."

Krohn hopes to gain some measure of justice by making her pets the poster pups for New York state legislation that would make it a felony to harm a companion animal, even by accident, during the commission of a crime. Conviction would be punishable by a $5,000 fine and two years behind bars on top of the jail time for the burglary or other crime.

Dubbed "Kirby and Quigley's Law" for the slain dogs, the proposal currently faces an uphill fight among lawmakers. But if it does pass, experts say it would be one of the toughest animal-cruelty charges in the nation.

Diane Balkin, a former Denver prosecutor who's now with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, likened it to felony murder, a legal rule that allows someone to be charged with murder if they kill someone during the commission of another dangerous crime, even if the killing wasn't intentional.

Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Schenectady County Republican who first introduced the bill five years ago, said he was originally motivated by two cases in which heroin traffickers smuggled drugs in the stomachs of puppies and dogs and were charged with drug crimes but not animal cruelty.

"Attorneys said it had nothing to do with cruelty, they were just smuggling heroin," Tedisco said. "What this bill does is make it clear that if you harm a companion animal while committing another crime, you face an additional penalty."

Tedisco's spokesman said the measure is intended to apply only to cats and dogs. But the bill says "companion animals," and a state appellate court once upheld a felony cruelty conviction under the current law of a man who stomped a goldfish to death.

The bill passed the state Senate 59-2 this month but has died in committees in the Assembly the past five sessions. Opposition has focused on whether such a law is really needed.

In the case of Kirby and Quigley, Balkin said the criminal could probably be charged under the existing cruelty law because the shooting was clearly an intentional act. The new law would also cover an unintentional act, such as hitting a pet with a getaway car.

"This bill is unnecessary," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat. "It's already a crime to assault or kill an animal; it's already a felony if you do it with malicious intent."

Lentol said if the point of the law is to deter cruel acts, it makes no sense to expand it to include unintentional harm.

Publicity about Kirby and Quigley led several breeders to offer goldendoodle puppies to the Krohns. They now have 8-month-old Porter and 7-month-old Tedi, who's related to the blond, curly Quigley and looks just like him, right down to the joyful grin.

Krohn has already written a pile of letters to lawmakers and promised to keep fighting for the bill.

"I never thought of myself as an animal activist," said Krohn, a retired teacher. "I just want to do what's right."