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 needs to do is prepare 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. Involving a veterinarian and consulting with them might give you some additional insight on things you should be taking into consideration when you’re making a plan to respond. You 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 ask that you contact 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, you need guidance from your prosecutor. Law enforcement personnel and your prosecutor can help you navigate these 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. 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 while others can work specifically toward having a conversation and building a rapport with the subject. Have someone focus specifically on building a rapport with them and avoid having the subject right there in the action. Involve a mental health professional, even on scene, if you have that resource.
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 proactive in a community, looking for hoarding cases isn’t as easy as it sounds. You really should be focusing on a harm reduction approach. 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 is the goal to strive for. Focus on all programs and services not just the ones about hoarding. It can be helpful to engage in a specific targeted campaign. If you see something, if you have concerns, contact us for help. If you or a loved one need help, pick up the phone and call. 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 in touch with you. Don’t solely focus on hoarding as a problem that needs to be reported. Encourge the community to contact you any time they see a pet in need. Build rapport with the public and make it easy to contact you. 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. Hoarders 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. Make contact both from the standpoint of resources that they could help you and you could help them with in a future case. Having a direct rapport with your local cities and counties so that you increase the likelihood of receiving a call if known hoarders move into neighboring jurisdicitons. 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, appropriate action can take place faster.
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. Sit down and have multiple meetings with stakeholders. 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 fixed the animal concern,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 a better quality of life.” And the age-old question, do you want to live next to that? That could be your next door neighbor. 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 stretched thin. I know in our own state, we were dealing with the Department of Children and Families and a really dedicated social worker showed interest in a face to face meeting. She enlightened me about what their system is like and how it operates. She told me how can I make a report so that it gets in the hands of the right person. In my case, they told me I should fax reports over. If I were to make calls, it’s all too easy for them to find a reason 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.