Article by Michelle
becoming more and more intolerant, and that's good news!
minute, Intolerance is GOOD news? Absolutely because what people are
increasingly intolerant of, is mistreatment of animals in any form, from
dumping a kitten along the side of the road to inhumane slaughter of livestock,
horrendous breeding conditions for companion animals and birds, and use of
former pets from shelters in household product testing.
interesting phenomenon occurred in the United States this election year:
despite all the rhetoric about "family values," "national
security," and the economy, thousands of voters were questioning
candidates' stand on puppy mills, dog fighting, and pet theft legislation!
VanKavage of the ASPCA and member of the Illinois Regional Institute of
Community Policing, "The majority of Americans view pets as members of
their family and they are outraged when an animal is a victim of abuse."
Not only that, but Americans are realizing that violence against animals is
often indicative of the capacity for violence against humans
"violence is violence is violence."
Where once animal abusers
were dismissed with a slap on the wrist and "restitution" in the form
of a pittance judged to be the "value" of the animal, an increasing
number now receive media attention, a complete police investigation, and
punishment to the fullest extent of the law.
point: the brutal death of a mother dog at the hands of a teen-ager just two
days after her pups were born. Eighteen-year-old Mark Antwan Douglas had come
to pick out a puppy, became angry with the mother dog, and kicked her. Her
natural response was submissive urination-which infuriated the young man, who
then kicked and stabbed the dog to death. (Can you imagine how a puppy would
have fared in this person's custody?)
arrived, officers were appalled at the condition of the dog. They persuaded her
guardian to turn the pups over to Animal Aid of Southwestern Michigan for
bottle feeding, then careful placement when they were old enough. Sue Burkhard
of Animal Aid also convinced the officers to transport mama's body to a vet for
x-rays and necropsy to determine the exact cause of death. The teen went to
jail on charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty until he could post bond.
Within a week, the story,
along with a large color photo of the puppies, appeared in a local newspaper.
The public, to put it mildly, were not pleased with Mr. Mark Antwan Douglas!
Links to the paper's online edition of the story, along with sample letters,
began making the rounds of national email rescue lists within hours of the
newspaper's publication, and many people wrote, faxed, and emailed the Berrien
County prosecutor's office. Several included documentation about the link
between animal abuse and violence against humans, asking that Mr. Douglas be
punished to the fullest extent of the law-and that he be required to attend
anger management and psychological counseling. Mr. Douglas, faced with the
necropsy results documenting Mama's violent end, pled guilty to the misdemeanor
charges, before they could be upgraded to felony animal cruelty.
community members sat in the courtroom when Judge Angela Pasula handed down a
precedence-setting, multi-part sentence: the maximum 90 days in jail, with
seven to be served and the rest suspended if Mr. Douglas:
- Attended anger management classes
- Submitted to psychological evaluation/treatment as determined necessary
- Paid a fine and court costs
- Reimbursed Animal Aid for the necropsy and the care of the puppies
- Did 40 hours of community service
- Found and kept a paying job
In addition, he was prohibited from
guardianship of an animal during his year of probation.
Rowland, Regional Director for the Great Lakes Office of the Humane Society of
the United States, calls this "a beautiful example of a well thought out
sentence. The judge has obviously studied the actions of the perpetrator and
handled this in a fashion intended to break the cycle of
of this individual." The fines and monetary restitution not only assigned
a dollar value to the dogs, but also reinforced Mr. Douglas's responsibility
for his actions.
What ensured the
successful prosecution of this case? In a word, TEAMWORK:
POLICE The police, though
understaffed and overworked, took this crime seriously, collecting sufficient
evidence for conviction. This is extremely important. As Charlotte Cozzetto,
vice president of the Minnesota Animal Rights Coalition. puts it, "We can
knock ourselves out passing additional laws, but until the ones on the books
are properly enforced, it's a moot point." Even "strong" laws
may be vaguely worded when defining animal cruelty, and most police academies
don't offer classes on conducting animal abuse investigations. "The ASPCA
has been spearheading training for law enforcement across Illinois in the
animal abuse laws for four years," says Ledy VanKavage. Their landmark
Regional Institute of Community Policing "believes investigating animal
abuse is an important component of stopping crime, especially domestic
violence." Law enforcement agencies are also realizing that animal abuse
(dog fighting in particular) is often directly connected with other illegal
activities, such as drug dealing, gambling, etc.
ANIMAL WELFARE ORGANIZATIONS Sue
Burkhard of Animal Aid has been actively building a rapport with local police
departments for years. She says the secret to successful prosecution lies in
close coordination between rescue and law enforcement. "We have to respect
that the police have limited time and resources, and let them know that we're
willing to do as much of the legwork and documentation as we can."
Rescuers also need to assure police that their organizations are willing to
accept the responsibility (and the cost) for victims' veterinary care,
rehabilitation, and rehoming-or necropsy.
VETERINARIANS Vets willing to take
the time to testify in court are a vital component in successful abuse
investigations; the necropsy documenting the extent of Mama's injuries and
exact cause of death were damning evidence in this case. Training and
experience also allow veterinarians to detect signs of pet abuse in their
clients and whether that abuse might indicate domestic violence in the home,
since pets are often held hostage to the good behavior of human victims. Says
Charlotte Cozzetto, "The MN Animal Rights Coalition created a catchphrase
to sum up this point: 'Men Who Kill Women Practice on Animals.'"
Some newly revised humane laws (such as those recently passed in Ohio) include
a clause requiring veterinarians to report any cases of pet abuse that they
suspect may be linked to domestic violence.
THE MEDIA Local newspapers
considered this story news! While the popular Animal Planet series "Animal
Precinct" does educate the public about cruelty and abuse issues, many
people watch these reports with the attitude, "That kind of stuff doesn't
go on in MY town." Well, "hometown" media is teaching them
otherwise abuse and cruelty take place everywhere, small towns and big
cities, slums and "upscale neighborhoods." After Mama's story
appeared, several people called Animal Aid offering donations, help fostering
the puppies, adoptive homes, and moral support. Some even said, "What can
I do to make sure this man is punished?"
THE INTERNET Just hours after the
story came out in the newspaper, a member of the Michigan "STOP"
pound seizure e-group read a post on the list detailing the case in her own
home town. The original source of the post? The Animal Spirit, a New Jersey
animal advocacy group! They had read and verified the story, obtained the
address of the Berrien County Prosecutor, written a sample letter, included a
link to the newspaper's online version of the article and sent it all over the
country "Net" working at its best. Many other organizations,
including the HSUS and ASPCA, have email newsletters and alerts, informing list
members of pending legislation, abuse cases, cases in which letters would make
a positive impact, and how their elected representatives stand on issues. Some
even supply online letters that require a member merely to add his/her name and
address and hit "send." Since the anthrax scare, many elected
officials prefer that constituents correspond by email.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT Members of the
community--ordinary citizens, not just animal welfare workers were
"mad as heck" and ready to become actively involved. In addition to
letter-writing and donations of time and money, several community members also
made it a point to be in the courtroom for the sentencing, to speak for the
victim. Cynthia Bathurst of Chicago's Dog Advisory Work Group (DAWG), which
boasts an organized court advocacy program, maintains, "Community presence
does, and obviously [in this case] did, make a difference."
THE LEGAL SYSTEM The prosecutor and
the judge considered Mr. Douglas's actions criminally violent, and recognized
that the public did, too. Increasingly, judges and attorneys are seeing animal
law issues in a more serious light. Many universities now offer courses in
Animal Law; Rutgers University was the first law school in the US to offer
animal law as part of the regular curriculum. There are even practicing
attorneys who specialize in this new field.
Cynthia Bathurst sums the case up: "In my nine years of experience with
community policing and court advocacy, this is an amazing example of agencies
and community working together on criminal justice as it involves
Americans still have a long way to go in combating the old attitudes that
"who cares, it's just a dog/cat/pig/parakeet," but we ARE taking
steps in the right direction. After all, it wasn't so very long ago in our
history that people were saying, "hey, who cares, it's just a