Animal advocates ask for tougher penalties in abuse cases

State Police say 66 year-old Patrick O'Neill left his two year-old Labrador inside his car for close to four hours while he was at the State Fair. Someone noticed the dog curled up under the front seat and alerted state police. When troopers arrived, O'Neill had the dog outside of the car but cool water and ice were not enough and it died in the parking lot. Dog owners say they can't believe someone would treat a defenseless animal so badly

"These types of people should not have dogs at all of they can not take care of them. It's like children. If you can't take care of your children, don't have children," said dog owner Sam Reilly.

O'Neill could only be charged with a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a thousand dollar fine. Animal abuse is covered under New York State's Ag and Markets laws. O'Neill is also facing charges related to an earlier case of neglected horses on his Massena farm. Paul Morgan from the Central New York SPCA hopes state lawmakers will move abuse laws out of Ag and Markets and into a section where extreme cases could face felony charges.

"One of the things they are looking at right now, which would be a very good move, is moving everything into penal law," said Morgan. "That's going to make it easier. With a police officer on the scene, it's on one law they're used to writing."

Morgan would like to see laws that allow for officers to use misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Many animal advocates are hopeful that Albany is finally ready to approve tougher penalties for abusers.

"Something should be done. Animals should be treated with dignity and respect," said dog owner Michelle Wilson.