NYSHA Plays Key Role in Development of Animal Cruelty Coalition
The genesis of the recently formed Rensselaer County Animal Cruelty Coalition was the recognition that law enforcement officers sometimes require assistance to determine if an animal´s situation requires a cruelty investigation.
Though police must enforce the cruelty laws per Agriculture and Markets, Article 26, Section 371, most may only be familiar with dogs and cats. They typically do not have the necessary background to evaluate the condition of a horse, goat, or cow, or many other species of animals, to determine if neglect is present. They also lack the resources, experience, and equipment that is necessary for handling and transporting animals who are victims of cruelty. As a result, when they find themselves confronted with such a case, they find themselves scrambling for help.
District Attorney Patricia De Angelis became aware of this problem through discussions with NYSHA Board member, Sue McDonough, and decided to fill this void. They concluded that in addition to NYSHA´s professionals, the following agencies should be involved as a reserve of experts who could be called upon to assist police: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, the Rensselaer County Farm Bureau, an instructor in animal law at Hudson Valley Community College, the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society which provides assistance in humane enforcement in the Capital area, local veterinarians, and animal control officers. De Angelis contacted each entity, explained what was needed, and asked if individuals interested in participating in the coalition would submit resumes.
De Angelis reviewed the resumes for qualifications in terms of education and experience in caring for animals and subsequently interviewed the applicants. Though she looked for a rudimentary acquaintance with the animal cruelty laws, the key element was to have an expertise in evaluating an animal´s appearance. The applicants also must be able to respond to a cruelty case when contacted and to maintain a professional demeanor.
She also asked the county to provide legal protection to the members of the task force when they assisted on a case, which the county agreed to do. On July 11, 2007, the county legislature voted in favor of the plan and the coalition was officially established. Once the coalition was established, De Angelis presented a resolution to the Rensselaer County Legislature, stating that the purpose of the task force is to assist police in handling cases of animal cruelty on an ´as needed basis.´ She also asked the county to provide legal protection to the members of the task force when they assisted on a case, which the county agreed to do. On July 11, 2007, the county legislature voted in favor of the plan and the coalition was officially established.
Soon after, De Angelis sent out a teletype message to all the police agencies in the county advising them which members of the coalition they should call, depending on the towns their agency is required to handle. To date, the coalition´s assistance has resulted in two arrests and several cases still being investigated. All records regarding task-force-assisted cases are being maintained by the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society.
Another benefit of having a county task force is that its members are local and more likely to be known to the community. As a result, when a cruelty case goes to court and these individuals testify as to the condition of the animals, the jury will know that they represent the values of their community. The defense cannot argue that “these animal rights people are coming in here telling us how to take care of our animals.” That has happened in cases where out-of-town experts participated in a case.
We hope the Coalition will serve as a model of what can be done to aid the police throughout the state as they deal with animal cruelty complaints. Given the pervasiveness of animal cruelty, some counties already have begun forming coalitions. Though it is following a different model, Orange County had already started a task force to address its animal cruelty cases. There calls for assistance come into the District Attorney´s Office and are routed to a Sheriff´s Deputy who is experienced in animal cruelty complaints. If he needs additional expertise, he contacts the appropriate party. Westchester County also has formed a coalition as well to assist police in animal cruelty cases. Models may differ, but the objective is the same: provide assistance to police who need help with these complex cases.
Please contact NYSHA if you wish to obtain further knowledge of how you can form a coalition in your county. Please continue to support NYSHA through your donations, so we can continue to battle animal cruelty through education and innovative ideas.
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXI, No.2 Fall 2007.