Who Ya Gonna Call? Cruelty Busters!

National Link Coalition

As anyone who’s spent time in animal care and control knows, there’s a frustrating lack of consistency when it comes to animal cruelty, abuse and neglect investigations in any given community. Namely: who does the investigating? It’s difficult enough for SAWA professionals to keep track of animal control, animal services, SPCA, humane societies, police departments, sheriff’s offices, dog wardens, humane agents, humane law enforcement, and other agencies that might be involved. Now consider the fact that some of these resources are located in public works, while others are in fire departments; or some agencies can investigate stray animals but not cruelty, or dogs but not cats, or pets but not livestock —it’s a mess!

And if it’s hard enough for us to figure it out, imagine how complicated it is for someone outside the field. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to think their local humane society or SPCA is a branch of HSUS or ASPCA. Lack of clarity means a lot of people give up, and animals continue to suffer.

Thanks to new legislation, this ongoing challenge is taking on new urgency. We now have 35 states mandating (or permitting) veterinarians to report animal abuse, with immunity from civil and criminal liability. But we’re still missing a key piece of the puzzle: they don’t know who to call to report suspected abuse.

Meanwhile, the FBI has included four types of animal cruelty in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), giving us much-needed data about the type, incidence and outcomes of cruelty investigations. But animal control and humane agencies that are not housed within law enforcement agencies are not allowed to submit data — at least not yet. The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) been working with the Animal Welfare Institute and the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals to produce a User Manual and training programs to help animal control officers understand the reporting process. They’re also working to create Memoranda of Understanding with their local law enforcement agencies.

The challenge is daunting, but not insurmountable. The National Link Coalition is embarking on a project that’s never been attempted in the humane or animal control movements. But hey, we’re not going to let that intimidate us! We’re compiling a complete national list — county by county and city by city — of the agencies who investigate animal abuse.

We’ve completed 13 states so far, and the results are revealing. In 2,394 counties and cities, 66% of the agencies that investigate animal abuse are Animal Control; 13% are Humane Society or SPCA. Police and sheriffs are the primary agency in only 20% of jurisdictions, and that’s often by default, since there are no viable humane or animal control agencies in those communities.

This is where we hope our SAWA friends can help. SAWA is sending you a brief SurveyMonkey questionnaire, asking you to list:

  • the county (or counties) in your service area;
  • the agency responsible for investigating animal cruelty either throughout that entire county or in the unincorporated regions outside city limits; and
  • any cities or towns in that county where cruelty cases are handled by a separate agency, and the names of those agencies.

We are not asking for the names of individual ACOs or humane law enforcement officers — just the names of the organizations.

The survey is designed primarily for local animal care and control facilities. Those of you in national or advocacy organizations are welcome to complete it as well — simply include whatever cities and counties you are familiar with.

Once complete, the database will be posted online, freely available for anyone to use.

I know surveys can be a bore, but this one has the opportunity to make a real difference. Your brief participation can expedite the cruelty investigation process dramatically. Thanks for your help, and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Thanks again,

Phil Arkow

Phil Arkow

Phil Arkow is the Coordinator at the National Link Coalition, the national resource center on the link between animal abuse and human violence. He also works as a consultant for the ASPCA and serves as Chair of the Animal Abuse and Family Violence Prevention Project at the Latham Foundation.

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