The Utica man charged in a horrific animal cruelty case pleaded not guilty in court Thursday morning.
22-year-old Umar Aziz appeared in Utica City Court for arraignment, pleading not guilty to 8 counts of animal cruelty and 14 related charges.
He is accused of abandoning eight dogs at his home on Whitesboro Street. When police arrived at the house Tuesday, they found three of the dogs had starved to death. A fourth puppy later died at an animal hospital and an adult female died Thursday afternoon.
Two of the dogs are undergoing treatment, but are considered extremely critical and may not survive. An adult male is undergoing care at the Steven-Swan Humane Society in Utica.
Utica Police Chief Mark Williams calls the case "sickening." The chief says that although Aziz has been in jail since April 1 on unrelated charges from a domestic incident, he says it's obvious that the dogs were starving for a long time. He says some of the dogs tried to survive by eating shoe leather.
Aziz is scheduled to be back in court on April 19. He is currently being held on $9,400 bail at the Oneida County Jail.
Aziz is facing all misdemeanor charges. Chief Williams says the extreme nature of the case shows how state animal cruelty laws need to change to make these felonies.
State Senator Joseph Griffo calls the incident "appalling." Griffo is calling for tougher laws and penalties for animal cruelty. "I will ask for public hearings to gather testimony and develop an agenda to examine existing laws and new laws that have a chance of passing and addressing this issue."
This story has outraged many people in the Central New York community. Here's what some of you are saying:
Karen Gladle Kennedy: "This stuff makes me SICK!!! I think they should put him in a cage and not give him water or food until his ribs show...what do you think?"
Brittany Rene: "this stuff happens everywhere because the law does nothing to stop it, but a slap on the wrist."
Do you think our laws need to be stiffer when it comes to animal cruelty cases? Should this man be facing felony charges? Have you reached out to your state lawmakers to get them to change the laws? Leave your thoughts below.