Puppy Inspires "Phoenix's Law"

December 20, 2012 Updated Dec 20, 2012 at 9:37 PM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

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December 20, 2012 Updated Dec 20, 2012 at 9:37 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - A puppy that captured the heart of just about every Western New Yorker is now inspiring one lawmaker to change animal cruelty laws in the Empire State.

After puppy Phoenix was found badly burned on Buffalo's east side, county and state lawmakers did some research. They found New York ranks 38th out of all 50 states in terms of laws to deter animal cruelty crimes.

In mid-October, firefighters responded to a call when a neighbor saw a 16-week old puppy lit on fire.

Phoenix was brought to the Buffalo Small Animal Hospital. His eyes were swollen shot, fur coat badly charred and ears cringed.

However, his remarkable recovery brings a sigh of relief to many Western New Yorkers. Phoenix now runs and plays. While he's still on the road of recovery, veterinarians say his puppy spirit is strong.

The crime raises these questions: who would hurt an innocent little puppy and what can be done to prevent another similar incident?

Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-144) says "The public wants to see something done, and New York's law is just antiquated. We haven't updated it and we fell behind."

17-year-old Diondre Brown confessed to being the lookout. Brown and prosecutors say 19-year-old Adell Ziegler hung Phoenix from a tree, doused him with lighter fluid and lit him on fire.

The maximum punishment for felony animal cruelty in New York is currently two years behind bars and a five-thousand dollar fine.

The case of Phoenix sparked outrage across the region. The Erie County Legislature passed a resolution asking New York lawmakers to take a second look at animal cruelty laws.

Ryan is now sponsoring legislation that would increase the prison term to four years behind bars and up fines to $10-thousand.

Ryan adds "Laws like this are proven to be a deterrent, and that why the national animal groups are focusing on this. They rank New York so low because the current law lacks any deterrence."

The legislation also includes mandatory psychiatric evaluation for anyone convicted of felony animal cruelty. He says studies link criminals who hurt animals to those who prey on people.

Ryan says "If someone's destined to be on the road towards abusing adults and they're practicing on animals, we need to correct that now."

The assembly member plans to introduce Phoenix's law to New York State lawmakers early next month.