April is Animal Cruelty Prevention Month. These cases always are heartbreaking. But solving them and helping the animal victims most often depends on people stepping forward to report these horrible cases.
The following are some of the cases I have seen over the years. I also included below a list of agencies that handle animal abuse complaints.
When I first began volunteering to help injured, abandoned and sick animals, there was a devastating cruelty case.
The Pit Mix puppy’s name was Baby Iris. Her owner beat her for getting into the trash. Thankfully, a neighbor heard the dog’s cries and called police. Iris was saved, went through a lengthy recovery and lived to a ripe old age.
Her former owner was prosecuted and convicted, receiving jail time, anger management and more. By the time the case was at trial, some 60,000 signatures had been gathered and delivered to the prosecutors, asking that Iris’ owner be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
This case happened in the late 1990s. Since then, I've seen many more cases – and some much more devastating than the abuse afflicted upon poor Iris.
Thousands of cruelty cases have gone through our legal system involving everything from hoarding to owners who snapped one day and took their desperate life circumstances out on an animal companion.
Not all cases make news headlines. Many involve dogs that were either being used as "bait" animals for dogfight training, or dogs that have actually been fought. Too often the people involved in dog fighting are impossible to find and arrest.
I can remember only three dog fighting cases that actually made headlines with owners charged for having dog fighting equipment and injured animals in their care. The last case in Pinellas was in the early part of 2011. Rarely do arrests come during the fights, when not only the cruel owners – but also all the people watching and betting on the fight – could be arrested.
Outcomes for those charged with cruelty, neglect or abandonment vary depending on the circumstances and the severity of the crimes. Many cases don’t go to trial. Perpetrators plead out, receiving fines, probation and community service time. Others go to trial and end with jail time, as in the case of Baby Iris' former owner. (May 1st is the trial date for the former owner of Sox, the toy poodle found, starving and injured with her muzzle bound shut with a rubber band.)
Hoarding cases typically conclude with perpetrators ordered to receive mental health counseling and to have no further ownership of animals. Sometimes hoarders are restricted to owning a few animals. Some cases require lengthy probation times.
SPCA Tampa Bay has been checking in and reporting to the parole officer on one hoarder who received five years' probation.
The people who commit these horrible crimes come from varied socioeconomic situations. Their ages vary, too. In every case, there is a complete lack of regard for the lives of those who are weaker and more vulnerable than us humans.
One case from several years ago involved a little girl who had put her cat in the microwave. Her grandmother saved the cat and the child was referred into counseling.
A well-off couple thought it was OK to tie their Labs to stakes in a vacant yard, with no water or shelter. I am thankful for the tethering laws that now assist animal agencies in citing and prosecuting these types of offenses.
Pinellas County’s worst case – the llama case/2004 – occurred in Tarpon Springs and revealed a spree of animal cruelties in Hillsborough County and as far as Indiana. All of the children in the school shootings had histories of "practice" on animals.
The link between animal abuse and human violence is real. Study after study has documented it. Education helps. As many as 95 percent of the cases investigated turn out to be a lack of knowledge of Florida statutes regarding shelter and care requirements. Reporting cruelty helps the most. Find an agency in your community that will investigate, follow up and go to trial to provide evidence that can lead to convictions.
In recognition of animal cruelty prevention month, please report suspected animal cruelty situations… remember you might just save the rest of the family too!
Pinellas County: call SPCA Tampa Bay 24/7 ~ 727-586-3591, ext. 135 or Pinellas County Animal Services ~ 727-582-2600
Hillsborough County: Animal Services ~ 24/7 Hotline! 813- 744- 5550
Manatee County: Animal Services ~ 941-742-5933
Pasco County: 813-929-1212 New Port Richey; 352-521-5194 Dade City; 727-834-3216 Land O' Lakes; 727-847-8102 After Hours Emergency Only
More counties at: www.animalrightsflorida.org