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WISCONSIN PUPPY MILL PROJECT

A Step In the Right Direction:

The Successful Prosecution of an Animal Abuser

Kerri, one of the pups rescued in this case.

(Click on photo for a larger view)

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Aaron, one of the puppies rescued in this abuse case.

Article by Michelle Crean

       Americans are becoming more and more intolerant, and that's good news!

       Wait a 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.

       An 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!

       Says Ledy 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."

Abby, another of the four puppies rescued in this abuse case.       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.

       Case in 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?)

       When police 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.

Another of the four puppies rescued from this abuse case.       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.

       Several 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.

       Sandy 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… violent behavior 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:

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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.

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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.

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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.

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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?"

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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.

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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."

 Good breeders get the Green Paw  

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.

       DAWG's 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 animals!"

       Of course, 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 slave/child/wife/classroom scuffle…."

Further Resources:

Of Special Interest to Wisconsin Residents:

 
Kerri, one of the pups rescued in this abuse case.
Kerri, one of the four pups who were rescued after their Mama was killed, found a wonderful Forever Home.
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Article Copyright © 2005, by Michelle Crean. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Photos Copyright © 2005, by Pat Crean, Flying Spots Photography All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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