Animal advocates and law enforcement personnel came together in Tahlequah Monday to discuss animal welfare laws and what officers can look for when investigating potential cruelty cases.
The Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, Spay First, and Humane Society of Cherokee County coordinated with area agencies to hold the event, wherein the law enforcement officers received eight hours of CLEET training on puppy mills, dog fighting, cockfighting, and animal abuse.
Ruth Steinberger, executive director of Spay First, went over animal cruelty statutes and laws related to animal welfare.
“We have great laws in Oklahoma, but in police training, those laws are not part of the basic training academy,” said Steinberger. “So even though we have very, very good laws, many officers don’t know what’s out there to support taking action.”
Officers from the Grand River Dam Authority, Northeastern State University Campus Police, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, and other agencies were on hand for the instruction. The group listened to presentations about how to avoid being bitten by dangerous dogs, how to document cases of animal cruelty when at the scene of a crime, and what to do in rescue situations.
“You can get overwhelmed when you walk into a situation and forget to do steps 1, 2 and 3,” said Alexis Colvard, transport coordinator for HSCC. “This reminds us to do step 1, 2, and 3, because of how important it is to get a case pushed through because of all the information you need.”
Homes where animal cruelty is occurring can be dangerous not only for the pet, but also for the officer who visits. So officers were given tips about approaching potentially dangerous scenarios or animals themselves. The OAA also provides resources for agencies that need help rounding up creatures who need saving.
“If they go out somewhere and there are 80 animals, they need an organization that’s going to come out, pick up the animals, and arrange the logistics for what are very often huge cases,” said Steinberger. “If you’re going on site and it’s a drug house, they have a dog outside chained up to guard the house. How do you not be bitten? And you don’t want to shoot the dog, so how do you address the situation because it’s complicated and dangerous?”
Participants watched videos and clips of what dog-fighting operations typically look like. While dog fighting is considered a felony in all 50 states, it remains a problem, fueled by underground organizations. There are even underground dog-fighting publications that keep track of winning dogs and bloodlines, two of which were passed around for everyone to see.
“The problem of dog fighting is growing worldwide,” said Steinberger. “It’s tied to illegal drugs trafficking, arms trafficking, and it’s even been tied to human trafficking. These are not nice people.”
The bloodsport of dog fighting has taken a toll on various breeds, such as pit bulls, terriers and bulldogs. In a typical dog fighting operation, animals are chained to a poles, sometimes given drugs such as steroids, strapped to treadmills to increase the dogs’ stamina, and have obvious signs of previous injuries.
Also part of the discussion was the link between violence toward animals and violence toward people, and how officers can spot the signs.
“Almost 100 percent of cases with animal abuse, there is also going to be child abuse, if there are kids in the home,” said Steinberger. “There is a serious link. Intentional animal cruelty – like somebody who tortures an animal – does not mean they’re going to become a serial predator, but almost all serial sexual predators started out torturing animals. So we focus on that link and focus on tools we have in Oklahoma to solve this problem.”
It is well-documented that Cherokee County has an issue with the population of stray dogs. The Humane Society frequently ships dogs to non-kill shelters around Chicago, where there are more resources to properly take care of them. In an effort to address that situation, as well as animal cruelty as a whole, Colvard wanted to reach out to area law enforcement agencies to form a working relationship with them.
“I don’t want to be a burden to the sheriff’s department or police department,” she said. “I just want to help them take care of the animals in our community that nobody else is helping, and today is a good start.”