Investigation and prosecution are two complex aspects of criminal justice. This gets even more tricky when the law to be applied is relatively new. Brought about by a new awareness on the correlation of animal abuse and its tendency to escalate to other violent crimes, animal abuse is one of those novel cases that law enforcement, prosecutors or judges face today. But not every police officer, prosecutor or judge are familiar with animal cruelty law. As such, the existence of a body that specializes in animal cruelty is particularly helpful in ensuring that a thorough and consistent investigation and prosecution is done. This is exactly what the Virginia Animal Law Unit provides.
Michelle Welch joins this Justice Clearinghouse webinar to talk about this initiative. Michelle is the Director of the Animal Law Unit at the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. In her role, she is in charge of all animal law related questions and issues within the state of Virginia. She assists involved agencies and serves as a prosecutor herself in animal fighting cases. She also trains prosecutors, animal control and law enforcement officers on animal cruelty and laws governing it.
Michelle walks the course attendees through the fundamentals of setting up an Animal Law Unit, its role, successes, challenges, and lessons. Specifics include:
- The beginnings of the Virginia Animal Law Unit as enacted by the Attorney General.
- The characteristics of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and other elements that paved the way towards the founding of the Virginia ALU.
- Finding prosecutors who are already well-versed and interested in animal law.
- Getting word out to those who are likely to be involved and benefit from the initiative.
- Challenges faced upon the creation of the ALU like added responsibility, team members who can only allocate so much of their time, and demands that must be addressed from various segments.
- The scope of work for the ALU that includes:
- Providing training to law enforcement, animal control, and prosecutors.
- Providing advice and support to prosecutors to ensure consistency in handling the case.
- Collaborating with federal and state agencies on animal cruelty investigations as well as wildlife crimes.
- Assisting with drafting motions, appeals, and research for prosecution, forfeitures, and seizures.
- Supporting legislation and reviewing bills for conflicts with existing laws and the constitution.
- The four-year-long run of the Virginia Animal Law Unit, the number of matters and cases handled, the role it played, successes and other unintended consequences of having the ALU.
- Creating your own animal fighting task force that requires collaboration from different experts and agencies and the importance of MOUs to delineate roles.
- Concepts and legislation to consider and remember in animal fighting cases.
- Big Blue – a case study on the massive cockfighting operation halted after 2 years of undercover work and 3 years of prosecution which highlights the agencies involved, the different charges and success of the prosecution.
- The webinar participants raised questions related to:
- Organizations to tap into when getting the task force off the ground.
- Recognizing animals as victims under the law.
- Costs of commissioning private professionals and using seized money as part of the fund for professional fees.
- Challenges and lessons learned with the ALU.
- “Gave information on what might be needed to get a unit off the ground here in [my state] where cock and dog fighting is of epidemic proportions. It has given me something to start the ball rolling. Thank you so much.” – Jeanne
- “This was incredibly helpful!” – Ashley
- “Michelle is a true hero to the animals and the people who investigate cruelty. She walks the walk and demonstrates how it can be done.” – Janette
- “…offered good advice on how to explain the value of a unit and what its role would be.” – Nancy
The National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse was established by the National Sheriffs’ Association to provide law enforcement officers information on the realities of animal abuse and to promote their proactive involvement in the enforcement of animal abuse laws in their communities. Through our partners, the Center will serve as an information clearinghouse and forum for law enforcement on the growing problem of animal abuse and its link to other types of crimes, including violence against humans. The Center also promotes officer safety in officer-dog encounters through continuing education and training.
The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) was formed in 1978 for the express purpose of assisting its members to perform their duties in a professional manner. We believe only carefully selected and properly trained animal control personnel can correct community problems resulting from irresponsible animal ownership. NACA’s purpose is to preserve the Human/Animal Bond by insisting on responsible animal ownership.