Cruelty to animals is a terrible thing, but we’re mystified by the bill before the Legislature proposing a SORA-equivalent registry for “animal abusers,” i.e., persons convicted of an offense under “Buster’s Law,” popularly known as Agricultural and Markets Law 353-a. What would Buster have done with an Internet registry? The dumb cat barely knew how to check his e-mail.
And although cruelty to animals is a terrible thing – did we already say this? – the felony statute has been construed to include goldfish. Yes, goldfish.
In People v. Garcia, 29 A.D.3d 255 (1st Dept. 2006), affirming 3 Misc.3d 699 (Sup.Ct. NY Co. 2004), Mr. Garcia was convicted of assaulting two human acquaintances and endangering the welfare of the children who were present. He was also convicted of the felony of aggravated cruelty to a “companion animal”: in the course of his rampage, he threw down a fishtank containing three goldfish named Junior, Crystal and Emma and stomped on one of them in front of a child.
It was alleged that the decedent was Junior, not Emma or Crystal, although the evidentiary basis of the identification is not set forth. The omission is puzzling, considering the significance that both courts attached to the fact that the child who witnessed Junior’s death was also named Junior.
The lower court rejected the argument that a goldfish is not a “companion animal” contemplated by the felony statute. Drawing on its store of life experience, the court explained that a goldfish is a children’s pet “dutifully maintained and cared for by its young human owner,” and who is “almost always named and spoken to as any household pet might be.” The court took judicial notice that “the demise of a goldfish” requires “significant consolation” and “necessitates a burial or other dignified dispostion of the animal’s remains.”
The Appellate Division, not to be outdone in the St. Francis department, rejected a constitutional challenge to the statute, singing:
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”
This is a lovely hymn, but surely under its plain language, the Lord God also made Mr. Garcia. It appears that Mr. Garcia was duly punished for his offenses against the humans. Is it really the Lord God’s will that he should do prison time for killing a goldfish? And if so, shouldn’t Mr. Garcia have the opportunity for cross-examination?
We’ve never set foot in a household where the people talk to the goldfish and if we did, probably wouldn’t stay there very long. But the decision is a warning to think twice before bringing one of these “animals” into your home. If you find him or her floating at the top of the tank, don’t even think of flushing him or her down the toilet, especially if you’ve named him or her after your child. It’s clearly a police matter until the Medical Examiner has investigated the cause of death. And you’d better arrange a burial or other dignified disposition of his or her mortal remains if you want to stay out of jail.