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Big Holes in Anti-Cruelty Enforcement
ASPCA study finds cops need more training
Terry Mills recently joined the ASPCA as Animal Fighting Specialist to provide training to law enforcement officials.

Earlier this year, Charles Siebert wrote a New York Times magazine story about the increased attention on animal cruelty in the United States. He cited a significant expansion of state animal-cruelty laws, investigative initiatives, and most importantly an overall appreciation for the links between animal cruelty and “non-animal” crimes “including illegal firearms possession, drug trafficking, gambling, spousal and child abuse, rape and homicide.” The story left me feeling that law enforcement would stop relegating crimes against pets to a lower priority—if only in the interest of protecting humans.

So I was disheartened to read about a recent study by the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) that found only 19 percent of law enforcement officers surveyed report they’ve received training in handling crimes against animals. Not just that, while nearly one-third of Americans say they’ve witnessed animal cruelty firsthand, police say they rarely see it. The study also revealed that while nearly all law enforcement officers feel they should play a role in enforcing animal cruelty law, only 41 percent say they know the relevant laws in their area and just 30 percent say they know the penalties.
In short, awareness of animal cruelty is here but not the frontline know-how to stop it. With so much budget pressure on municipalities around the country, I’m pessimistic about these concerns rising to the top of priority lists. But I’m glad to see the ASPCA shed light on this gaping hole in the effort to fight animal cruelty.


Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

Image: ASPCA.

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Submitted by Anonymous | January 6 2011 |

Over the years in my neighborhood in a California city, I've run across bodies of dogs dumped in out of the way locations. In my non-expert opinion, the bodies showed signs of abuse. Certainly these dogs weren't ones that were simply hit by cars and who had died in the vicinity as some of them were wrapped in plastic tarps.

I spoke to the head of animal control in our city. Their response was that they hadn't been able to get our district attorney to prosecute cases of abuse when the agency presented cases to them. Acknowledging that animal abuse is not that rare, they said that prosecution was very rare.

I informally spoke to a former criminal attorney who had experience as a local prosecutor. His take was that felony prosecutions require a lot of solid evidence which had to be correctly gathered. He felt that the cases presented by the animal control agencies were likely to be too weak for a successful prosecution of a felony level crime.

One conclusion that I drew was the animal control officers did not have sufficient training as criminal investigators. Even most police beat officers don't have such training and experience. (In most jurisdictions, specially trained detectives put together the criminal cases for presentation to the prosecutors.) Animal control officers may have knowledge of animals and the laws related to them but they mostly don't have skills to assemble a case.

This requires either more specialized training for ACOs or better collaboration between Animal Control and police investigators. As more animal control agencies have become independent of police departments, the channels of communications may need to be reviewed. The police too need to make investigations of these crimes a priority so that they commit the resources necessary to make cases.

Tougher animal abuse laws are just the first step. A lot more work needs to happen to make the laws relevant.

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