Webinar presenter Jessica Rock answered a number of your questions after her presentation, “Animal Cruelty Investigations and Prosecutions.” Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Why is it that the court system, especially the judges, do not seem to take crimes against animals quite as seriously like other crimes? I’ll tell you, we have a couple of questions coming in like this or in this vein. Can you kind of speak to how can we, kind of work with the judges to get them on board too?
Jessica Rock: There is no doubt in my mind that this all comes down to training. It all comes down to getting the conversation going with the judges about not only how awful these types of cases are for the animals themselves. Like I said, my background is also I’m a special victims prosecutor so I handled homicide, high-risk domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse cases. What I saw in my cases was the coexistence of these crimes happening so many times. I think it’s talking to them and training them on the issues that surround these types of cases and why, like I said, not only are they significant in themselves but they are significant because of the harm that also coexist into humans and oftentimes as well, just a community issue and a safety issue. All the way down to the tethering of animals.
Again, I could sit here and talk to you and answer this question for about two hours. Just to try to wrap it up, even insignificant as tethering issues with animals, why should we ban tethering? Because dogs can get aggressive on chains and children `get bit. It kind of runs the gamut between that and all the way up to out very serious abuse cases.
We had a case not too long ago. This is horrible, I’m sorry but we had a juvenile, a child that was a bit older than a juvenile, a 19-year-old and a 16-year-old who were beating a possum with a bat. They realized it was pregnant and the baby came out of the possum. They started drowning the baby possum in bleach. Now if you don’t think that that’s something serious and that it’s not concerning to you now, obviously, that’s an animal cruelty case. Imagine all of the issues that surround that. Why would somebody do something like that? They videotaped it and were laughing about it. Just imagine the type of mindset that somebody who does something like that have. You think they are going to be back in the criminal justice system? Of course, they are. Next time it’s probably going to be worse. Before you know it, they are going to be in prison for something very serious like armed robbery or rape or homicide or something like that. It’s just getting the conversation going and helping them understand, like I said, how significant these cases are connected to so many other violent crimes as well.
Audience Question: It is winter here, therefore I get a number of calls claiming that the dog is outside and it’s freezing to death. In my jurisdiction, there is no temperature range requiring an animal must be brought inside. I’m perfectly okay with that because it allows for officer discretion. However, when I go out on these welfare checks and I’ve informed the complainant that I’ve checked and the dog is actually okay, with a dog, no signs of distress and appropriate body condition, I get a lot of pushback. What is the good way to approach these situations to articulate that an outside dog is okay and that the dog is actually safe? How can our animal control officers word that to really reassure and make it clear that the dog is safe?
Jessica Rock: This is probably one of the hardest “crimes” that I guess we deal with when it comes to animals is the sheltering. A lot of our county’s ordinances and state laws don’t define a certain temperature that says you have to bring an animal inside or when you have to have a specified typed of shelter, bedding, etc. All of our laws are very different on this. One of the things I think people need to consider is passing a little bit stricter law than this because I will tell you I think we don’t take it into consideration enough what an animal is actually suffering because I do think that we have to consider all different types of scenarios.
I’ll give you an example. In Georgia, we have really crazy weather here. We have a lot of dogs that are short-haired dogs living outside on chains. Very sad and unfortunate situation. We do see the weather go, it can from 70 degrees to 20 degrees in one week, not all the time but especially when we’re just in between our different seasons. I tried to explain to animal control officers and law enforcement officers sometimes that even something like that, some of the factors that we need to take into consideration because climate is one of them, and temperature is one of them. We kind of need to look at it as you know how hard it is for us to go from 70 degrees temperature to 20 degrees temperature in one week and how our body feels about it and kind of use that as the best way we can to imagine how an animal might feel if the body is not really regulated to be out in that cold freezing weather.
I know that didn’t exactly answer question. The question was how I go back and say to the particular person that this animal is okay. I think one of the ways that you can do is explain to them, I’ve checked the animal, I’ve gone out there. The dog has proper shelter, it has proper bedding, it has proper whatever. It has adequate this, adequate that, and to say that this person is in compliance with the law in this particular situation. I think that’s all you really can say. The bottom line is not everyone treats their animals the same way. Unfortunately, our laws do oftentimes allow animals to be kept outside, chained up and be an outside animal. Meanwhile, there’s some of us who could not ever imagine having an outside dog. Our dogs sometimes sleep on our beds or curl up on our couch by the fire or what have you. Then you have people who just tie their dog up out back. I think some of us who treat our animals in a certain way would never understand that concept. Trust me when I tell you it’s one of the hardest for me too. Our laws are what they are and unless an animal is specifically suffering or in some type of physical pain and our statutes or ordinances don’t say otherwise, it is permissible. I think that’s just how I usually explain it. I don’t know if that was helpful.
Audience Question: You mentioned several organizations that can do testing, necropsies, that kind of thing. Do you have any idea how much these tests cost or how is that handled financially?
Jessica Rock: Typically they are not extremely expensive when you are talking handling them for purposes of a criminal investigation. I know, for example, our University of Georgia Forensic Lab, they, I believe, charge a hundred dollars a case. Even if you take 20 deceased animals to them for necropsies it’s only going to cost you 100 dollars. We’re not talking about any significant type of money that should be ever preventing us from gathering that type of evidence. Not in my experience at all.
Audience Question: Do you ever use search dogs to find other sites on a property where there might be multiple animals injured or dead?
Jessica Rock: I have not myself but I’m sure you certainly could use tracking dogs to find other animals. I’m sure you certainly could. I do know that a lot of canines are very skilled at tracking scents. I certainly think that they probably could. I’ve never personally done it but I would certainly think it would be feasible.
Audience Question: When I’m writing a report, I don’t use the animal or the cat. I use the pet’s name, if it’s known, to make it sound more human-like and less object-like. Do you have any insights on whether it’s better to say the animal’s name in the report writing or whether they should say the dog or the cat?
Jessica Rock: I think using the animal’s name is fine if you know it. I think you should also describe the animal. I do hesitate to ever put a breed in there. I usually tell my law enforcement officers and prosecutors to usually use the language especially in the indictments and accusations which are formal charging documents where it becomes more and more important to be careful about you word things. They usually say brown and tan mixed breed canine. If you happen to know the canine or dog’s name, brown and tan mixed breed canine named Jack or whatever. I think when you can humanize or not, I know the correct word is not humanize, but when you can make the animal seem more — What would be word? it’s not humanize right? Relatable, yeah. I don’t see a problem with that. I just think it’s also important to sort of describe the animal as well so that here is not any confusion especially if you’re having to differentiate between multiple animals in a particular household or situation.
Audience Question: Jessica you talked about educating owners when the owners really do care. What about the owners who have really fallen on hard times and the animal is just a symptom of a larger family financial challenge. What can law enforcement do in that case?
Jessica Rock: Get to know the resources in your community. I know in Atlanta, we have an abundant amount of resources here. People that will help with if you decide you no longer can care and don’t want your animals anymore, humane societies and other organizations that will take in animals that you can no longer care for but in terms of actually caring for them and getting food for them and getting vaccinations for them. There are so many different types of organizations that provide these services. Get to know them in your community. Share that information of law enforcement and animal control with individuals that you believe really are trying to continue to care for that animal.
Like I said before, not every case is a criminal case and there are plenty of times that a little bit of education and a little bit of assistance will go a long way. I think when we think it is appropriate to do that then we should be doing it. Law enforcement and animal control, they deal enough with people that they can have a quick conversation with somebody and they can tell whether or not that person is really going to try to comply with what we’re asking them to do. A lot of that is going to depend to the person you are talking to, the body language that they are giving you, their attitude and behavior and demeanor towards you when you are trying to help them. Again, know your resources because there are typically plenty of resources you just have to know who they are.