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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 15, 2010
Buster’s Law thrown out
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Wendall Smith, who was charged with aggravated animal abuse in February for allegedly neglecting his two German shorthaired pointers until one died and was eaten by the other, was arraigned Tuesday at Berne Town Court. The felony charge under Buster’s Law has been dropped, but the misdemeanor charges and violations remain in place.
“What they alleged in the felony charge is not something that had happened,” said Smith’s attorney, James Walsh, outside Town Hall after Smith’s arraignment before Judge Albert Raymond.
Smith’s next day in court will be Tuesday, May 11.
In February, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department and three other eyewitness accounts from neighbors and the town’s dog control officer described the same scene on Pine Knoll Lane: One dog was alive, but extremely emaciated; the other, a half-eaten carcass that lay headless nearby. The water in their bowls was frozen, they had no proper shelter, and neither dog had been fed recently.
“The charges were dismissed because, quite frankly, they couldn’t prove the felony charges that were filed,” Walsh said on Tuesday. “They’re going to make allegations, but Mr. Smith fed his dog; he watered his dog; the dog was not malnourished; the dog was not emaciated. This was a dog that was well taken care of, and Mr. Smith is intending on proving that; he’ll prove it through [veterinary] records, and he’ll prove it through other means as they’re necessary.”
In 1997, an 18-month-old tabby cat named Buster had been doused with kerosene and burned to death by a Schenectady teen. This led to the state legislature’s passing Buster’s Law, which created the felony category of “aggravated cruelty to animals,” punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Smith was charged in February with two counts each of aggravated cruelty to animals under Buster’s Law, a Class E felony; failure to provide sustenance, a Class A misdemeanor; and failure to provide appropriate shelter, a violation.
Undersheriff Craig Apple said then that, while Smith had been charged under Buster’s Law, it would be difficult to convict him in this case.
“Buster’s Law is designed for someone who is doing something depraved or sadistic to the animal, torturing the animal; this person basically neglected the animal,” Apple said.
Likewise, Walsh is confident in Smith’s defense.
“As we said from the beginning, these are charges that are made without somebody having the full benefit of knowing all of the information,” Walsh said on Tuesday, “and we’ll make sure that we assert that every step of the way.”