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An Interview with Joel Abelove: Candidate for Rensselaer County DA and Animal Rights Activist

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An Interview with Joel Abelove: Candidate for Rensselaer County DA and Animal Rights Activist

By Nicole M. Arciello Berhaupt

Joel Abelove with One of His KidsJoel Abelove is a 6-foot-tall lawyer that lives with his wife, two children and cat, Oreo, in the Capital District. His warm welcoming smile and love for animals are only a few of his great attributes. He is also running for Rensselaer County District Attorney and has a history of successes with prosecuting animal cruelty cases and is highly involved with the strengthening of Buster’s Law.

He began as a prosecutor in 1995 working with then Rensselaer County DA, Mary Donohue. Joel quickly became a successful prosecutor and put some dangerous criminals in jail or prison, and through his work, eventually became Deputy District Attorney.

I first ran into Mr. Abelove at NYS Animal Advocacy Day last spring and recently was able to sit down with this busy man to discuss his former successes in prosecuting animal abuse cases, his thoughts on Buster’s Law, and the recent addition of a second Animal Abuse Registry in New York State.

Joel’s history with animal cases dates back to 1996, when he prosecuted Maria Stathacos, who had perhaps the largest puppy mill in Rensselaer County. The woman had over 130 dogs in her facility that lived in filthy conditions, piled up in cages in a kennel that was filled from top to bottom with feces. She was found guilty of nearly 60 counts of animal cruelty. This was before Buster’s Law, so she ended up with Class A misdemeanor charges of which she would only serve out a maximum of 2 counts.

I asked Joel, based on his experience what he thought of the importance of the District Attorney being involved with laws such as Buster’s Law moving forward, and adding harsher punishments to it.

“The involvement of District Attorneys in the legislative process is important for a number of reasons,” says Joel. “First, it conveys to the public the idea that if the chief law enforcement officer in the county believes there is a problem which should be addressed through legislation. Second, legislatures are influenced by the collective voice of prosecutors, normally expressed through the NYS District Attorneys Association. Third, by taking the lead in drawing attention to a law, police officers become more aware of the importance of enforcing that law.”

Joel prosecuted the first ever Buster’s Law case in New York State in 2000, which led to the first person serving jail time for animal abuse under a newly enacted law. The case involved a 24-year-old graduate student at RPI named Kelly Knowles. He broke the leg of an 8-month-old puppy in a fit of anger. He plead guilty and was sentenced under Buster’s Law to six months in jail and a fine of $2,500 and 120 hours of community service at one of the local shelters. The animal was treated for his injuries and adopted by a loving family.

Joel said that he would also like to see an Animal Abuse Registry come about in Rensselaer County. He related that “such a registry is never going to be as effective as a statewide registry. As long as the county can support the registry in a revenue-neutral manner, its benefits will certainly outweigh any concerns opponents have. Part of the challenge will be the manpower necessary to administer the registry.”

And what were his thoughts of the reports of the rise of dog fighting in the City of Troy and the county?

“The rise of dog fighting in the county–primarily Troy–is very troublesome,” Joel says. “It reflects the desensitization of society, which leads to more crime. It obviously puts the animals involved at risk; but perhaps more concerning is the effect it has on its participants who gamble on these fights and engage in various crimes associated with dog fighting.”

Among Joel’s other attributes and experience, he has taught local law enforcement and animal control officers how to thoroughly investigate animal cruelty cases. He was also mentioned as a contributor to New York State Police Investigator (retired) Sue McDonough’s manual called “Investigating Animal Cruelty in New York State.” In addition, he was the recipient of the 11th annual Toni Hanna Memorial Award presented by the New York State Humane Association for outstanding performance in the field of Humane Law Enforcement.

For more information on Joel Abelove and his campaign for Rensselaer County District Attorney visit

Nicole M. Arciello Berhaupt is a Contribitor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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