When Joanne and Michael Pelino adopted their Rottweiler last October from Hi-Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona, he weighed just 62 pounds, which was actually 10 more than he weighed in September.
Rocky nows weighs about 85 pounds, but can’t get too much heavier than that because he has a bad leg and if he weighs more than around 85, he has trouble walking on it. He still has some trouble walking from time to time, Joanne Pelino said, citing a time just last week she went to walk Rocky, but he could hardly make it a block.
“I wanted to cry,” she said. “It’s just so sad to see him struggle like that.”
Rocky was left tied to a pole in a basement until some neighbors heard him barking from down there. He was taken to an animal hospital and eventually to Hi-Tor. When police looked around the house, the closest they could find something dated showed that the owner had been there five days prior to that.
“But five days couldn’t do that to a dog,” Michael Pelino said. “This dog was just not being taken care of for longer than that.”
The Pelino’s, who had two dogs already, took Rocky, then named Railroad for the house he was found on, in thinking they’d only hold onto him for a little bit while finding someone to adopt him. Within three days of taking him in, they adopted him. They also gave him a new name.
“We didn’t want to have a reminder of what he went through,” Michael Pelino said. “So we named him Rocky cause he’s a fighter. Plus, he has a droopy eye and looks like Rocky after a fight.”
The Pelino’s told the story of Rocky Tuesday night at a Rockland County Legislature meeting during a public hearing for a proposed law that would establish a county registry for animal abuse offenders. They even passed around pictures to the legislators of Rocky when they first took him in and Rocky now.
The proposal called for offenders to sign up for the online registry, pay a $50 fee to the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department that would go toward paying the administrative costs of maintaining the registry, and it would also punish any pet dealer that sells or offers to sell an animal to someone on the registry. If caught doing that twice within two years, the dealer will be guilty of a class “A” misdemeanor. Because of the fee for offenders, there would be no increase in taxes and it wouldn't cut into the budget. Abusers under the age of 18 wouldn't be entered into the registry, because there's nothing legally that can be done to those people and it's the parents' decision what to do with the minor.
The bill was passed unanimously by the county legislature on Tuesday night.
“It feels really gratifying to have it pass unanimously,” said Rockland County Legislator Gerold Bierker of Bardonia, who sponsored the bill. “It’s long overdue.”
But before the legislature could vote on the bill, about eight people got up to speak at the public hearing, all of them in favor in the passing the bill as well. Perhaps the strongest urging the pass the bill came from Barbara Leavey, a board member at Hi-Tor.
“If everyone in this room worked for 100 years, we couldn’t do what you have the power to do here tonight,” she said.
A few other board members with Hi-Tor also spoke, including Robert Bangs, the president. Bangs thanked Bierker for his passion in getting the bill proposed and said that a similar one was passed in Suffolk County, and that if Rockland passes one as well, perhaps they could start looking to do something like this on a state-wide level.
Sharon Needleman, the second vice president at Hi-Tor, spoke about the connections found between those that abuse animals and found to commit domestic violence.
According to the Animal Legal & History Center, “88 percent of families where there had been physical abuse of children, there were also records of animal abuse. In Wisconsin, battered women revealed that in four out of five cases, abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted its own study in which 85.4 percent of women and 63.0 percent of children reported incidents of pet abuse after arriving at domestic violence shelters.”
“These numbers are way too high, and with this law we can help lower them,” Needleman said.
She added that this bill shouldn’t be passed only because of how it might help lower animal abuse.
“This isn’t just about animals, it’s about people,” Needleman said. “I do love pets, and on most days, people.”
Nixie Gueits, another board member from Hi-Tor, also spoke about the connection between domestic violence and animal abuse.
“We’ve been approached by the Rockland County [Family] Shelter about working together,” she said. “They told us that one reason women stay in abusive relationships is because their abusive partner is also harming their pet, and they don’t want to leave the pet. So we’re trying to work something out where if a woman goes to the shelter, we might take in the pet or find a place for the pet to stay.”
After the public hearing, Needleman was happy the law passed, calling it a great first step.
“It’s a really progressive thing for the County Legislature to take this big a step to help the animals of Rockland,” she said.
Bierker said the idea for the bill was first brought to him September of last year by Marge Hook, a former Hi Tor volunteer, who heard about a similar bill out in California.
After everyone at the public hearing spoke, many legislators also wanted to say a bit in support of the bill. All legislators who spoke thanked the Pelino’s for talking about Rocky and passing around the pictures. Legislator Ed Day thanked them for “personalizing the issue” for everyone.
“We wanted people to know what Rocky went through, and simply that love and food brought this animal back,” Michael Pelino said after the hearing. “He wasn’t sick because of a disease or anything like that. He was sick because someone abused him.”
Joanne Pelino said they even wanted to bring Rocky to the meeting, but weren’t sure if he would’ve been allowed in.
“It’s great it passed. We were glad we could help,” Michael Pelino said. “We try to help as much as we can. We like to go to Hi Tor and walk the dogs every now and then. We just love our dogs like they’re our children. We don’t have children, so we put that love into our three dogs and try to give them the best we can. To think someone could be so hurtful to a dog is just awful. We need to get those people and make them pay for it.”