ASPCA helps law enforcers take aim at animal cruelty

Published Sep 13, 2017 at 4:10pm

Law enforcement officers from across the county and state were herded together at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica this week for a seminar on animal cruelty crimes.

The seminar was hosted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services in order to give a voice to dogs, cats, lizards and other critters who are sometimes caught up in dangerous situations.

“Animals don’t have a voice for themselves, so that’s where we come in,” said New Hartford Sgt. Michael Kowalski, who investigates animal abuse cases for his department and attended the two-day seminar on Monday and Tuesday.

“Animal cruelty is connected to a lot of different things, whether it be domestic violence, crimes against children or just average abuse against animals. You might come across an animal cruelty case while you’re investigating a domestic violence or a narcotics case.”

Kowalski said he investigates everything from animals being trapped in hot cars to people hoarding too many cats in their small apartments to domestic abusers either hurting pets or using them as leverage in a dispute.

“It’s a fairly vast, wide, area for investigations that can sometimes be overlooked if you don’t have that sense. It’s just a matter of training,” he said. “Animal abuse, to the public, the average citizen, is a high priority.”

The seminar had classes on working with veterinarians, animal body language, blood sports and cruelty to farm animals, among others lectures.

“You’ve got living breathing evidence sometimes that you seize,” explained Stacy Wolf, the senior vice president for the Anti Cruelty Group with the ASPCA.

“Understanding better how to navigate these cases is really important.”

Wolf said law enforcement has been more proactive in animal cruelty cases in the past few years, leading to more cases being pursued and investigated.

She said there seems to be a growing trend in the New York City area of pets being involved in domestic violence cases, whether someone uses the animal as leverage against a partner, or having the pet become an argument point during a break-up.

Officials said cases like this can sometimes be solved by just teaching the people involved how to better treat animals, but sometimes law enforcement has to pursue criminal charges.

In New York State, it is a misdemeanor to harm any animal, and a felony to harm companion animals like cats, dogs and any other pet.

“Making it so much more important, I think, for law enforcement to address it as a safety issue for humans and animals,” Wolf explained.