Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Animal Hoarding: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Know. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: The comment is from Pat; she says I work primarily with birds. I would recommend that law enforcement find an avian experienced veterinarian to assist with bird hoarding cases in advance of the situation. Birds should be placed with a vetted foster facility. I just want to get your thoughts and your feedback on her statement there.
Adam Leath: One of the things that anyone who’s involved in these types of cases just like they should be preparing for the types of species that they’re dealing with. There are also specific disciplines within veterinary medicine that can focus on those species. If you’re dealing with an exotic or an avian specific case, it would be incredibly helpful to have a veterinarian who has that type of experience. Especially when you’re dealing with mixed species. If you the luxury of having multiple veterinarians if you’re a very urban community and have multiple practices, maybe involving them consulting with them might give you some additional insight on things you should be taking into consideration when you’re making a plan and might be able to avoid some pitfalls before you find yourself stepping into them.
Audience Question: When charging or removing, have you listed more than one owner on a court document? We can only list one person on a court document at a time. We’re not sure if you’ve had to deal with that with the Florida courts you’ve worked with or not?
Adam Leath: Yes. So for us, in our jurisdiction, we use a 707. We actually do a different charging document for each person. So it wouldn’t limit your ability to charge multiple people. You would just have to write multiple documents for each individual defendant. But I would also that ask to reach out to your prosecutor because if you’re dealing with misdemeanor or felony case, you might be looking at co-defendants or maybe some spousal privilege issues if you’re dealing with a husband and wife, whether or not they want to use one against another, whether or not they can. Those types of considerations your law enforcement, personnel, and your prosecutor would be able to help you after those types of challenges.
Audience Question: If given consent to enter, how do you balance respecting the individual and personal safety precautions? In other words, wear PPE around some who has been living in that hoarding situation.
Adam Leath: Well it’s challenging. I will say that their ability to sort of cope with that environment, it might be embarrassing for them. But I wouldn’t put that need or concern above the safety of first responders. But you’re right. What I’ve typically found to be helpful is that you’re not necessarily having them hover right over you. So in other words while you’re walking through the home, the initial responder may have had all the personal protection equipment on if you have others that can just work specifically toward having conversation and building a rapport with them, so maybe then after that point they’re not standing over you and watching you interact with each individual pet which can oftentimes escalate their stress level, might present some challenges with communicating with them so maybe having someone to focus on specifically building a rapport with them and they’re not right there watching everything happen could be an effective tool.
Audience Question: Knowing that hoarding is under-reported, are there ways to increase the level of reporting in our community?
Adam Leath: It is really challenging because if you are proactively in a community looking for hoarding cases to the things that we’ve talked about, whether or not that’s the situation where you’re looking specifically for items that are stored outdoors or if you happen to notice someone buying excessively large amount of cat food and you can’t see inside their windows in a vehicle that’s parked outside the supermarket of which we’ve had several cases reported to us in that way as well, you really should be focusing on a harm reduction. There’s a number of ways that people will perceive you. Typically animal control is perceived as the one that’s going to come in and take all the animals away, but really working as an advocate within the community and getting your message out ahead of time .on a whole host of issues not just hoarding but having there be a specific targeted campaign. If you see something, if you have concerns, you have family member, giving people the ability to know first of all who to call day to day, whether that’s for neglect or cruelty cases or hoarding or any other type of case, the public should know who you are and how to get a hold of you which is easier said than done, I realized. But typically having people just report hoarding, I would encourage them to report anything. So building that rapport with the public and making it easy to contact. Don’t have people jump through 5 different hoops and be transferred to several different people. It should be 1 number and it should be easy for them to understand so that the report can be made quickly and the response can be done as fast as you get it.
Audience Question: We have an increasing difficulty that hoarders living across county or state lines to escape court restrictions and get more animals. Do you have any suggestions, ideas that you’ve seen work in other jurisdictions?
Adam Leath: That is a challenging one. Because as we talked about especially with rescue and exploiter hoarders there is a network that typically gravitates toward other people of like mind and like activity. And so, it is problematic. A number of cases, I’m sure many of you on the line are probably shaking your head, you’ve had this same problem. The challenge is real. They do frequently do that. They would frequently move, not only from state to state but easier, city to city or county to county. What I’ve found to be successful is knowing who your neighboring jurisdictions are, having contact both from the standpoint of maybe there’s resources that they could help you and you could help them. But having a direct rapport with your local counties, your local city, so that if they are moving, take the time to make a phone call. If you’ve charged someone and you know that they’re about to move, make a call to the place where they’re moving to and the hope would be, that same happens in return, if the other agency is aware there is a problem and they’re moving, they make the same call to you. But I don’t have a greater answer to that challenge because it’s a real one. The one that is very challenging to work through.
Audience Question: What are your suggestions regarding trying to find agencies to help out? And her experience is that organizations and current jurisdiction, she’s not getting cooperation or assistance from them such as adult protective services.
Adam Leath: Yes, I’ve experienced that same problem with that same example that I gave, even day to day it’s still challenging. Totally different jurisdictions and those contacts are not things that are developed overnight, it takes a long time. Having multiple meetings and then you have staff changeover so. If there’s a staffing change at the leadership level, under the prior administration, there was an interest and now there’s not because they have a totally different change. Sometimes that happens. So what I would say is, regardless of whether or not they initially show interest, don’t accept no as an answer. Even human services in that previous example that I gave you was very skeptical over the phone. They were very quick to say, well there were animals, right? So you responded and you fix the animal so everything fine, right? No, don’t meet with them over the phone. Travel to them. Face to face. And I show them the photographs and I put them in the same predicament that I was in. “Look this is a person, they deserve to live a better quality of life. The animals deserve to live with a better quality of life.” And the age-old question, do you want to live next to that? That could be next to you. How would you feel? What would you want the jurisdiction to do? Well, we’re in that jurisdiction and we have the ability to do something about it. And particularly with state agencies, it’s challenging. Their resources are strapped in. I know in our own state, we’re dealing with the Department of Children and Families had a really dedicated social worker that I’ve worked with for years. Having her teach me about what their system is like, how can I make a report so that it gets in the hands of the right person and in my case, they told me I should fax reports over. So that if I make calls, it’s all too easy for them to find a reason for them not to respond. But if I’m faxing a report, there’s a record and now they’re obligated to put something in there and someone has to respond. Government is what government is, so finding a way to work around is always challenging but we all are dedicated to finding a positive solution, don’t accept no for an answer.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Animal Hoarding: What Criminal Justice Professionals Need to Know.