Animal cruelty and investigation

CM-MR-2-ANIMAL CRUELTY1by Steve Wagner

When encountering the world of animal cruelty, one can be easily overcome by the staggering number of ways used to inflict animal cruelty. Comfort may be taken in the fact that there were people back in the American Civil War who exacted retribution for such actions. A prime example was General Ulysses Grant who, when he saw a man flogging a horse, had the man stopped, stripped of his shirt and tied to a post where he took the horse whip and ordered the man flogged without mercy. Hopefully the man learned his lesson and did not repeat the offense. Countless laws and protective regulations would prohibit Grant’s action today. Animal cruelty continues on a widespread basis at the hands of the thoughtless, the impulsive, and even those who engage in such activity subversively as sport and gambling.

The subject was addressed at the 63rd annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Sergeant Charles Staskiewicz examined advances in coping with the problem in its widespread permutations. PSP has always had the authority to enforce animal cruelty and dog law sections of the Pennsylvania codes.  In January 2012, “We established the Animal Cruelty Liaison Program (ALC),” Staskiewicz said. “It was time for the Pennsylvania State Police to step up and come up with a program to augment other programs. We also are the point of contact for other agencies that work in the Commonwealth as well as Commonwealth citizens who have someone they can talk to about animal cruelty and dog law problems.” PSP established the program to assist troopers in the field with the investigation of animal cruelty incidents. PSP’s response to these incidents has increased due to funding restrictions placed on the Department of Agriculture’s Dog Law Enforcement Office and private humane organizations.

“We announced that we are looking for people to enter the program,” Staskiewicz explained. Troopers who put in a request to enter the program should have experience as criminal investigators or some other type of specialized training. We have a basic animal cruelty investigations course that Pennsylvania State Police sponsors. Many candidates have already taken that course because they had that interest and knew it was something they wanted to be involved with.” Knowledge of animals and desire for the position are other perquisites. Many entrant liaisons come from a rural background. They already have an interest in animals and animal welfare. A lot of them are from farms and they own horses, cows, have show rabbits, and are still involved in the agricultural aspect of their lives. Effective communications skills are also sought because part of their job is to go out and speak in public, giving presentations as well as face-to-face interactions.

Once a trooper is selected he is subject to a 12-month probationary period. It gives both sides an opportunity to see if the other is what they want. Some examples of investigations include animal fighting, dog-bite prevention, animal abuse, equine neglect and abuse, and animal hoarding cases. Duties of the animal cruelty liaison are secondary to their primary duties. “They cannot investigate every incident on their own within the troop. Staskiewicz says his liaison team has niches. “A number of them are really into horses, they own horses, and they attend lots of seminars on horses, care treatment, signs of neglect. Another trooper is interested in dog fighting and the whole animal cruelty aspect of dog fighting. I have two former veterinarian technicians who decided to become police officers. They have knowledge of basic treatment of animals and standards of care. I let them gravitate toward their specialties because we all learn from each other.”

Other areas of cruelty specifics training include: Investigating and litigating puppy mill cases; Combating cockfighting; Killing, maiming or poisoning domestic animals or zoo animals and Selling or using a disabled horse, among many others. Furthermore, as a domino effect, participants in animal fighting have also been involved in the other crimes. “This is why we concentrate on this area, says Stankiewicz, “these underlying offenses. Sometimes we can’t get somebody for illegal drug possession and distribution, but we can get him on a dog fight. So we still get a drug dealer off the street.”

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