Cover Story: Animal Cruelty Taskforce Brings Justice for Animals

Story by Claire Sheridan      Photo Courtesy ACT Det. Robin Crehan, PCSO

“Only by courageously opening to the sorrow of the world as it is can we find our freedom.” -Jack Kornfield

The Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona (ACT) was formed in preparation for the passing of the Animal Cruelty Act in 1999. The Taskforce provides a forum for professionals to come together and discuss these unique and often complex crimes against animals. ACT’s ultimate goal is to improve the lives of animals by conducting thorough investigations to uphold animal protection laws.

According to Arizona Revised Statute §13-2910, cruelty to animals includes: cruel neglect, abandonment, failure to provide medical attention, the infliction of unnecessary physical injury, cruel mistreatment, killing an animal owned by someone else without the owner’s consent, interfering with, killing, or harming a working or service animal, depriving a service animal’s handler of the service animal, and leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle where physical injury to, or death of, the animal is likely to result.1

The first taskforce of its kind in Arizona, members of ACT are represented by law enforcement (including the Tucson Police, Sahuarita Police, Oro Valley Police, and Pima County Sheriff), adult and juvenile probation, Pima Animal Care Center, Humane Society of Southern Arizona, Pima County Attorney’s Office and the state’s department of Livestock, Game & Fish. There are several wildlife, equine and companion animal veterinarians among the ranks of ACT. This multidisciplinary approach allows the ACT team to staff for individual cases and tap into the vast array of professional wisdom its members bring to the table.

Signs of Abuse: Obvious & Under Cover
Sometimes the abuse of an animal is very clear. In one case, a Pima County Sheriff’s detective responded to a report of a small dog being thrown into cholla cactus. Upon arrival at the scene, the detective discovered a small dog, with cactus segments still embedded in her hindquarters. The alleged perpetrator was arrested on the spot.

Other times, the abuse might be well hidden from the untrained eye. Fortunately, veterinarians like those at Pima Animal Care Center, can aid in law enforcement investigations through physical examination of animals where abuse is suspected. Using techniques such as shaving fur, bruising and other evidence of injuries can be uncovered.

Law enforcement officers often rely on eye-witness reports in combination with findings of injuries from veterinary examination. The incident involving the dog was called into the police by bystanders who intervened to stop the owner from abusing it. Law enforcement and Animal Protection Officers removed the dog from its owner’s care, and was taken to Pima Animal Care Center for assessment of its injuries.

The People Behind ACT
Animal Cruelty Investigator Mike Duffey is the co-founder of ACT. By the time Duffey retired after 34 years working at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, he had become the PCSO’s go-to person and primary animal cruelty detective. Duffey has continued this work in the private sector as the Humane Society’s Animal Cruelty Investigator. In addition to directly investigating incidents of animal cruelty, Duffey, along with other members of ACT, provides education to the public and conducts trainings for law enforcement throughout Arizona and around the country.

All of this work is in keeping with the Taskforce’s mission, which is: “to enhance the enforcement of laws that protect animals from harm; to train additional law enforcement personnel on these laws and investigative techniques for better enforcement; and to provide education to the public on animal cruelty.”

Complex Cases: It Takes a Village to Save 3 Arthurian Legends
In August of 2016, members of ACT were called upon to assist in Graham County. In Graham County, a rural place northeast of Tucson, animal cruelty cases were not previously prosecuted. Three dogs at Graham County Animal Control had been found tied in the desert where they had apparently been left to die; they were later dubbed Lancelot, Guinevere, and Arthur. Guinevere was emaciated to almost skin and bone. Lancelot suffered minor injuries and Arthur had significant injuries to his ear and head, along with a crushed hip.

Thanks to the efforts of ACT partners, including the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (where all three dogs were taken for treatment and recovery), evidence including photos and medical records were gathered and preserved. The dogs’ owner was charged and pled guilty. As part of the conditions of her plea agreement, she was required to surrender the ownership of all animals in her care and was banned from owning animals for the duration of her 24-month community supervision. The expert support of the ACT team made this happen.

Animal Welfare Court
Pima County has the first and one of the only courts dedicated to animal crime in the country, co-developed by presiding Judge Maria Felix. The Animal Welfare specialty court is a prime example of the importance Pima County places on the wellbeing of animals. Because animal cruelty cases are often misdemeanors, in many jurisdictions cases do not receive much attention in the court system. However, studies suggest that violent acts against animals may be indicative of an individual’s propensity to commit future violent acts. The Animal Welfare Court has the ability to impose alternative sentences, which allow an abuser to obtain education or mental health treatment. First-time offenders may receive sentences that involve enhanced community supervision instead of jail time.

ACE-ing Out Animal Cruelty through Education
The Animal Cruelty Taskforce is headquartered in, and supported by the work of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSAZ). The organizations work in conjunction to develop public outreach agendas. General educational programs about the care and treatment of animals, including the prevention of animal cruelty, are available for adults and kids.

HSSAZ and ACT also collaborate to develop court-ordered classes for adults who have been charged with or convicted of crimes against animals. Offered several times a year, Animal Cruelty Education Classes (ACE) are 90 minutes in duration. The goal is for students to learn better ways of addressing animals’ needs. ACE classes are helpful for both attendees as well as for law enforcement officers. Similar to attending traffic school for a speeding ticket, attendees may have their offense dropped.

Because ACE participants are educated about specifics of neglect and abuse, in the event that a participant commits a future infraction, it can clearly be demonstrated that the person knew that what they were doing was illegal. This is one hurdle prosecutors must overcome in proving guilt in these cases.

Of course, the ultimate goal is the safety of all animals through the prevention of cruelty. However, according to Investigator Duffey, who has been qualified as an expert by the court, the recidivism rate for offenses against animals is extremely high. In the event that the ACE class does not change the behavior, it will help lead to harsher criminal penalties for subsequent offenses.

2019 ACE classes will be held at the Humane Society on April 13, August 10, October 12 and December 14. For more information, contact Stephanie Gary at sgary@hssaz.org or (520) 321-3704, Ext. 125.

Happy Endings Help Morale
Although the members of ACT are exposed to many sad and terrible images and stories, there are also happy endings. One of these happy ending stories is our cover dog, Vanna. Vanna and her sister were abandoned at the Humane Society after hours. Her ear was missing; ACT suspected that the dogs may have been used as fighting bait dogs. Vanna’s sister was adopted relatively quickly. Although Vanna is very sweet, it seemed her missing ear was holding her back. She was often overlooked during her stay at the Humane Society. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of HSSAZ, Vanna found her forever home in the Catalina Foothills with a kind human who fell in love with Vanna at first sight.

The Tucson Dog thanks the dedicated members of the Animal Cruelty Taskforce for their courage and kindness in bearing witness to the suffering of animals in our community. Their love of animals and their commitment to improving animals’ lives is a perfect example of the strength of the human-animal bond.

There are several upcoming opportunities to interact with the Animal Cruelty Taskforce. You can visit them at their booth at The Tucson Dog Magazine’s WOOFstock & Adopt-a-Thon on Sunday, March 10 from 10AM-4PM. Additionally, ACT will host the HSSAZ’s monthly adult educational SPEEK lecture entitled, “Paws & the Laws,” on Thursday April 4 at 5PM at the HSSAZ Main Campus. In this lecture, you can learn more about pets and the laws that protect them. The presentation will include information about how you can identify a pet in need, and will provide tips on how to respond. Your ACTion can be the difference between life and death for a pet in an unsafe situation!

For additional information about the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Southern Arizona, visit them at: www.act-az.org or Facebook at www.facebook.com/actsaz.

Signs of abuse or neglect include:

Bodily injury (sores, cuts, bruises)
Patchy fur or bare patches of skin
Tick or flea infestation
Extreme thinness
Limping, favoring a limb, or inability to walk
Dogs left alone outside without food, water or shelter
Dogs tied out in someone’s yard (illegal in Pima County)
Dogs kept outside during extreme weather without shelter
A large number of dogs or cats in the house
A dog that cowers or acts aggressively around the owner
Pets left in parked cars (during hot weather)

When you witness an act of animal cruelty CALL 911. It is important to report the crime quickly, from the area where it occurred. When making your call, it is helpful to know who, what, where, why, when and how. Under most circumstances, 911 will require you to leave your contact information. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can contact 88-CRIME or the Animal Cruelty Taskforce Public Reporting Line, but the response will not be immediate.

Anonymous Reporting to 88-CRIME: (520) 882-7463
Text: 274637, enter “Tip 259” plus text message
Go to: 88crime.org
Anonymous Reporting to the A.C.T. Tip Line: (520) 547-0260
Pima Animal Control Center: 520-724-5900
Marana Animal Control: 520-382-8020
Sahuarita Animal Services: 520-445-PUPS (520-445-7877)

Remember: In an animal emergency, CALL 911. You can make the difference between life and death for an animal that cannot speak for itself.

1 https://www.azleg.gov/ars/13/02910.htm
2 For additional information, see the 2018 National Sheriff’s Association report, “Animal Cruelty As A Gateway Crime,” which may be accessed online at: https://www.sheriffs.org/publications/e071818886AnimalCruelty_v10_508.pdf

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