Most “civilians” assume that when they see animal cruelty or neglect, they can call the local animal control agency, and someone will trot right out, save the animals, and arrest the bad guys. The animals will get nursed back to health and adopted into perfect homes, and the bad guys will go to jail, where they will get exactly what they deserve from angry inmates who save extra special punishments for animal abusers.
Nope. It’s not like that.
Here’s the reality. Most animal control agencies and other types of shelters do NOT get involved in animal cruelty investigations. They can’t afford to. The agencies would have to either add an employee or provide specialized training to an existing employee. They would have to purchase a specially outfitted investigative vehicle. Most agencies don’t have the budget for all the training, equipment, extra office space, and extra insurance. Most animal control agencies and shelters can barely pay the staff they have and keep the animals housed and fed.
That’s not all. Local law enforcement agencies and court systems would have to be willing to work on animal cruelty investigations. In some areas, I’m sorry to say that local judges are not animal friendly. I personally know of cops, prosecutors, and animal control officers who have been told by judges not to waste the court’s time with animal cases.
So let’s say an agency can afford to hire or train an investigator, purchase the equipment, pay the extra operating costs, develop a working relationship with local law enforcement, and have the good fortune to get animal friendly judges and prosecutors. There is still one more major problem.
When an animal control agency partners with law enforcement to prosecute animal cruelty, they usually begin by issuing warnings and citations, with explanations of why the animals’ current condition is unacceptable and of what the owner must do in order to keep their animals. If the owner does not comply within the allotted time, or if the conditions are such that the agency can get a warrant immediately, then the agency will seize the animals and remove them.
Here’s the problem. What does the agency do with them now? The agency is required to house them for the duration of any legal processes, until such time as a judge awards custody of the animals to the agency that seized them. And then the other side could appeal, which means keeping the animals even longer.
If they seized maybe a dozen malnourished dogs and cats, it might not be that big a deal. But what if they seize several hundred animals from a hoarder? I have been present for such a seizure. The sheer manpower it took to handle the animals was overwhelming. And then the animals had to be vetted, housed, and fed for the duration of the legal processes.
Most agencies cannot afford the overtime, don’t have housing space, can’t afford to feed and vet all the extra animals, especially if the trial and appeals process goes on for very long. Imagine your local shelter, already near capacity, suddenly being hit with three or four hundred extra animals to feed and house, all of whom are in bad shape and in need of specialized care. Imagine those shelter employees being told that these extra animals, no matter how sick, feral, aggressive, must be housed for an extended period of time, during which their euthanasia rates will skyrocket as they have to put down animals they might have been able to save because all their resources are being consumed by this group of seized animals.
So most agencies simply do not get into the animal cruelty business.
Now that you know all the reasons an agency might choose not to hire a cruelty investigator, let me tell you why Montgomery County, Texas, needs one.
There is a lot of animal cruelty occurring in this county. Some of it is the result of ignorance, some of it is the result of mental illness, and some of it is the result of outright evil. And right now, it is very, very difficult to prosecute any of it. The county shelter – the logical agency to handle cruelty investigations – does not have a cruelty investigator. No money, no space.
As Montgomery County grows, we have more people, which means more animals, which means more people choosing to neglect or abuse their animals. There are known hoarders holding large numbers of animals in unhealthy conditions. We have dogfighters. We have bad breeders holding animals in cruel conditions (just check out all the creepy puppy sellers lining our roads). And we have the random jerks who mistreat their animals just because they can.
A few sample cases: Molly Reed (the pseudo-rescuer turned hoarder and serial euthanizer). The elderly hoarder in east county who had over 100 dogs held in filthy makeshift cages around her trailer home. The jerk who left his dog chained to a fence until it starved to death. I could go on, but you get the idea. The need is there.
We need someone to deal with those cases that are beyond the scope of our current level of enforcement. We need judges and prosecutors and cops to get on board and help that someone to enforce the laws that protect our animals. We need a trained investigator who knows the laws, who understands forensic and investigative procedure, and who knows how to work with law enforcement and the court system to do what’s right for the animals who can’t protect themselves.
It won’t be quick, cheap, or easy, but it can be done.