Franky’s Law: A New Bill in Maine Could Give Abused Animals a Voice in Court

An animal welfare bill that was just introduced in Maine would better protect animals by giving them a voice in court, according to advocates of the measure. As CBS 13 News in Portland reports, the bill would let law students or volunteer lawyers work on animal abuse cases at no cost to the state.

It’s officially titled “An Act to Provide for Court Appointed Advocates for Justice in Animal Cruelty Cases,” but it's nicknamed “Franky’s Law” after a pug mix that was abducted, tortured, and killed last summer. Two men have been charged with that crime.

A public hearing on the bill took place this morning at the State House, and from there it will move to a committee work session. Jessica Rubin, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, wrote in public testimony that the bill is modeled after a similar law in Connecticut. Desmond’s Law was passed in 2016, making Connecticut the first state to let court-appointed lawyers and law students intervene in animal cruelty cases.

Rubin said the law has not only provided justice to animals, but has also served as a positive learning experience for law students. “Students have enjoyed serving as advocates for two reasons—the work is gratifying and it provides them with in-court experience and training,” Rubin wrote in a letter supporting Franky’s Law. “Advocates typically collect information about a case by interviewing veterinarians and law enforcement personnel, conduct legal research, and then present recommendations to the courts regarding appropriate handling of the case.”

Desmond’s Law gets its namesake from a dog that was beaten and strangled by its owner, who entered a rehabilitation program instead of serving jail time. Advocates say the law ushered in stiffer penalties for those who commit such crimes, according to the New Haven Register.

“Since Desmond’s Law, we have seen a significant increase in jail time or probation with suspended sentences,” said Robin Cannamela, president of a volunteer animal welfare organization called Desmond’s Army.

Officials in New Jersey and New York are reportedly interested in similar legislation.

[h/t CBS 13 News]

Pet Obesity is Causing Big Health Problems, According to a New Report


If you’ve recently picked up your cat and felt your back give out, your furry friend may be among the 60 percent of the feline population that’s overweight. Dogs are also getting chubbier: about 56 percent of pet pooches are obese.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, America's largest general veterinary practice with more than 1000 hospitals nationwide, those fat cats and chunky puppies are at risk for chronic health issues. In a new report, the hospital finds that osteoarthritis (OA) in pets is on the rise, with a 66 percent increase in dogs and a 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years.

Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis caused by inflammation or damage in joint tissue. Genetics, injury, or bone abnormalities can all be factors. The disease is chronic and degenerative and can make it difficult for pets to move around as they get older.

Excess weight can both precede OA and make it worse. When a pet is overweight, they can develop chronic pain that leads to stress on joints. If they already have OA, that joint discomfort can prevent them from being active, leading to weight gain. That worsens the condition, and the cycle continues.

A dog is 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA if it's obese, while cats are 1.2 times more likely. Dogs suffering from the condition tend to display symptoms like putting their weight off to one side when sitting, avoiding stairs, or appearing uninterested in playing. Cats might have loose or matted hair because they can't maneuver to groom certain parts of their body.

Although OA can be seen at any age, it’s often mistaken for old age and a pet slowing down naturally. If you notice your pet is either soft around the middle or moving more slowly, it’s best to see a veterinarian. Pets who are overweight or suffering from OA—or both—can benefit from treatments like special diets.

There Are 2373 Squirrels in New York's Central Park, Census Finds


Central Park in New York City is home to starlings, raccoons, and exotic zoo animals, but perhaps the most visible fauna in the area are the eastern gray squirrels. Thanks to a team of citizen scientists, we now know exactly how many of the rodents occupy the space—approximately 2373 of them, according to a census reported by Smithsonian.

In October 2018, a group called the Squirrel Census—with help from the Explorers Club, the NYU Department of Environmental Studies, Macaulay Honors College, the Central Park Conservancy, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—organized a squirrel survey across all 840 acres of Central Park. For 11 days, more than 300 volunteers staked out their sections of the park twice a day—at dawn and dusk when the crepuscular animals are most active—and noted each squirrel they spotted. They also recorded how the squirrels looked, vocalized, behaved, and reacted to humans.

The research was analyzed and presented at an Explorers Club event in New York City on June 20. All the non-peer-reviewed findings—which includes a printed report, an audio report on a vinyl 45, 37 pages of data, collectible squirrel cards, and large maps of the park and the squirrel locations—are available to purchase for $75 from the Squirrel Census website.

This isn't the first time a massive census has been conducted of a public park's squirrel population. In 2011, the Squirrel Census launched with its first survey of Atlanta's Inman Park. They've conducted satellite squirrel counts at other parks, but Central Park is just the second park the organization has investigated in person.

[h/t Smithsonian]