The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization for animals, has named Rep. Diana Urban, D-Stonington and North Stonington, as one of its America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders.
The Cotati, Calif.-based group works to protect animals and advance their interests through the legal system.
Each year for National Justice for Animals Week, which begins Feb. 25 in 2018, the organization honors 10 individuals, who are often prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and lawmakers, who champion its cause.
Urban was honored for helping to pass Desmond’s Law in 2016 in Connecticut. As the nation’s first animal advocacy statute, it allows judges to appoint advocates for animal victims in criminal cruelty cases. The law was named for a dog that was severely abused by his owner.
The owner was able to avoid jail time and have the crime expunged from his record after rehabilitation.
Also named to the list was Jessica Rubin of the University of Connecticut School of Law, who championed Desmond’s Law and was among the first lawyers approved to volunteer as an animal advocate.
Also this week, Urban introducted legislation that would ban a probationary process that eventually erases crimes of animal abuse from a violator’s record.
She also introduced a bill that expands the definition of animal cruelty and abuse to include bestiality, elevating it from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“If you stab a dog, if you strangle a dog, if you rape a dog, it’s violence; let’s recognize that,” Urban said in a press release on Thursday.
Urban is seeking to prohibit “accelerated rehabilitation,” a process judges can use in cases of animal abuse to gradually expunge abusers’ criminal records. The process comprises “going through a round of often ineffective, cursory counseling sessions,” Urban said. The problem with expunging criminal records is “there’s no way to track or flag repeat abusers,” she said.
Tracking abusers is important because of the link between cruelty to animals and violence against people, especially in the form of mass shootings, she said.
“The most important issue that I have worked on, and continue to focus on, is the link between animal cruelty and future violent behaviors. The shooter in the recent tragedy in Florida had mutilated animals and used them for targets. If we had paid attention to that, we could have saved children,” Urban said.
“Eighty percent of mass shooters started out abusing animals. It’s a huge red flag.”
Urban’s ban on accelerated rehabilitation would not apply in the case of animal neglect. It would apply in cases of Class C and D felonies involving intentional and malicious mutilating, wounding or killing of animals.
More than 3,700 instances of animal cruelty were reported in Connecticut from 2006 to 2016, according to the state Office of Legislative Research.
More than a third of those charges were dismissed and, of those, about 1,000 were dismissed after the offender completed a program such as accelerated rehabilitation. About 1,700, or 46 percent, of the cases were not prosecuted.
“What that tells me is that we as a state have not been serious about what animal cruelty really means in our society and that needs to change,” Urban said. “This is about common sense legislation to protect all citizens of Connecticut—people and animals.”