Rescuing, Investigating and Prosecuting Animal Abuse: Behind the Scenes

Three dogs and a cat. Horse. Doves and turtles. All barely alive in their Mason County home. The animals were extremely malnourished and emaciated from hunger, covered in open sores as they lived among garbage, excrement and urine. In critical condition, pit bull Fred couldn’t open his eyes and had to be carried on a stretcher during the rescue in May 2018. Another pit bull, Baby, had yellow-stained fur after months of sitting in his urine and feces.

According to FBI data released in 2021, this tragic case is just one example of more than 11,500 recorded animal cruelty incidents nationwide. Unfortunately, this is an undercount, as not all law enforcement agencies report data.

In the Puget Sound area, the three-person Investigations & Rescue team at Pasado’s Safe Haven investigated or responded to 155 animal cruelty cases in 2021.

These specialists, along with behavioral experts and veterinarians, provide essential assistance in animal cruelty cases, from rescue to rehabilitation to the prosecution of animal abusers.

Animal cruelty: beyond the surface

Animal cruelty can look like simple neglect (lack of food, water and sanitation), hoarding, or more cruel and malicious neglect – abandonment or lack of urgent medical care. Cruelty can take the form of organized dog and cockfighting, as well as intentional abuse, torture, ritual abuse, and sexual assault of animals.

The US Department of Justice notes the critical importance of investigating and prosecuting cases of animal cruelty – animal abuse is often a gateway to other criminal activity. According to the DOJ, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a criminal record for offenses related to drugs or disorderly conduct.

Investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty offers the opportunity to not only save animal lives, but also prevent future crimes by placing abusers through psychological and social service evaluation.

Rescue and rehabilitation

The field of veterinary forensics is relatively new. Few animal control and law enforcement officers are experienced in the techniques needed to investigate animal crimes or understand how an abused dog can be a window into other offenses.

To change that, Washington State and national law enforcement, animal control, prosecutors, and veterinarians are undergoing training and workshops to improve the response to animal-related crime. Pasado’s Safe Haven has partnered with the Marysville Police Department and Washington State Police Academy to create on-demand animal cruelty investigation training available to the 10,000+ officers active Washington law enforcement agencies to improve police response to these unique cases. Since its launch a year ago, the training has enrolled more than 70 agencies and trained 469 agents.

After being rescued, animals like Baby and Fred often need extensive medical and/or behavioral rehabilitation. They’ll head to an animal sanctuary, like Pasado’s Safe Haven, the largest sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest at 85 acres and home to over 200 rescued animals. The organization has been helping victims of animal crime for 25 years.

A legal action

To optimize the operation of the animal criminal justice system, Pasado Safe Haven also works with legal experts, prosecutors, judges and others. “Our highly trained team fought to achieve justice for these animals. We maintained evidence logs, provided investigative reports and provided ongoing support to the DA’s office in this case,” said Kirsten Gregory, Director animal cruelty response and prevention at Pasado’s Safe Haven.

Pasado’s Safe Haven works with experienced and inexperienced prosecutors in animal cruelty cases to provide evidence to support charges, help secure convictions, and develop appropriate sentencing suggestions.

Altogether, testimony and evidence help the judge and jury assess the case and impose the sentence. Criminal penalties for animal abuse could include restitution, fines, probation, community service, or jail.

Legislative action

Pasado’s Safe Haven is the only locally based animal nonprofit with a dedicated presence at Olympia and is recognized by lawmakers as a vital voice on animal issues. Their work helps drive important policy changes on behalf of animals, including Pasado’s Law, which created the new crime of first-degree animal cruelty in 1994. The law and organization were named after Pasado, a community donkey from Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue, who was brutally tortured and killed in 1992.

Over the past 25 years, 15 other laws have been passed in Washington state to protect animals, including tougher anti-animal provisions in 2019 and a ban on the retail sale of cats and dogs in 2021. The 2021 legislation protects both consumers and animals by ensuring that no new pet stores selling puppies can open in Washington, another step to help shut down the inhumane puppy mill pipeline.

The Pasado Shelter has a comprehensive approach to the fight against cruelty to animals. In addition to investigating animal crimes and providing refuge for abused animals, we advocate for better laws to protect animals and educate the public.