Officers, prosecutors learn about animal abuse

Photo provided Members of Bartholomew County law enforcement, animal control and representatives from the county prosecutor’s office and the county humane society participate in training about investigating and prosecuting animal abuse cases.

Bartholomew County law enforcement, prosecutors and animal control officers gathered for what organizers believe is a “first-time” training on how to investigate and prosecute animal abuse.

Organized by Bartholomew County Sheriff Chris Lane and Bartholomew County Prosecutor Lindsey Holden-Kay, the training was provided by two members of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – Animal Rescue Team manager Jessica Johnson and Indiana Director Samantha Chapman.

Some of the law enforcement officers seemed surprised at the amount of information about the area of animal abuse that they didn’t know, Lane said.

The training was exclusively for Columbus police officers, county sheriff deputies, the prosecutor’s office staff, the county’s Animal Control Department and the Bartholomew County Humane Society.

Lane says he’s been working with Bartholomew County Humane Society Vice-President Elizabeth James since the first of the year to schedule the training. With the assistance of Holden-Kay, it became a reality, James said.

“I believe this is the first time we have actually had this type of training in Columbus,” Lane said.

Many don’t know what to look for when responding to calls regarding suspected animal abuse, Chapman said. That includes clues or evidence about animal mistreatment, she said.

James said she is especially concerned about the correlation between violent adults and those who engaged in abusing animals when they were children.

Some statistics mentioned during the training include:

  • A survey that indicates 71% of domestic violence victims say their abuser also targeted pets.
  • Pet abuse had occurred in 88% of the families under supervision for physical abuse of their children, researchers say.
  • A total of 49 states have laws to provide felony penalties for animal torture on the first offense. Only Iowa doesn’t have such a law.
  • Animal cruelty laws typically cover intentional and egregious animal neglect and abuse.
  • Dogfighting, cockfighting and other forms of organized animal cruelty go hand in hand with other crimes, and continue in many areas of the country due to public corruption.

While Bartholomew County authorities say they are unaware of any local organized animal fighting for gambling, there was a dog fighting ring raided in Indianapolis last month. News reports state the operation has been going on since 2001.

For the local Humane Society, James said the main purpose of the training was to create and foster partnerships among all professional stakeholders. This became more important after Dean Satterfield replaced the late Mark Case last August as Bartholomew County Animal Control Officer, new sheriff’s deputies were being hired and Holden-Kay became prosecutor this year, she said.

“We wanted to bring all stakeholders in a room to meet each other, and get them to hear the same message from reliable leaders in the industry,” James said.

If a case arises that might lead to criminal charges, this month’s training might help all parties understand each person’s role, Lane said.

Lane and Holden-Kay say tensions between a group called Change 4 Bartholomew County – Animal Advocacy and county officials did not prompt the Oct. 4 training session. Members of that group have been attending Bartholomew County Commissioner meetings nearly every week to complain about the county’s response to reports of animal abuse.

“But I do believe that some of the cases the group has focused on have brought light to an area of our justice system that had some weaknesses,” Holden-Kay said. She pledged to work with Lane and Humane Society officials to address those weaknesses and identify areas where improvements can be made.

While the HSUS training was only for professionals involved in law enforcement and animal control, long-time Change 4 Bartholomew County leader Nancy Ray said members of her group are now hopeful that “first-responders will now treat these situations like the crimes that they are and take steps accordingly to charge and prosecute the perpetrators.”

But any successful effort to control the number of animal abuse cases must include education, Chapman said.

“It’s not just trying to vilify folks about their animals,” the Indiana HSUS director said.

Education includes the realization that an ordinance violation is not within the jurisdiction of the county prosecutor’s office nor the local sheriff’s department, Lane said. Instead, they are handled by county attorney Grant Tucker through the courts, Lane said.

“My deputies and I are there to follow up if there is a criminal statute to be investigated, but I believe it’s largely up to animal control folks,” Lane said. “This is what they do every day.”

In addition, the Indiana Board of Animal Health has limited jurisdiction in animal abuse and neglect matters and will only get involved after written request from law enforcement officials or after a court order has been issued.

If criminal charges are warranted, the recent training was intended to equip officers and prosecutors with information they need to effectively prosecute their cases, Chapman said.

Education also means accepting that the humane treatment of animals is defined by folks who keep their animals outside in a different way from those who house them inside, Chapman said.

Noting that Indiana law defines animals as “property,” Chapman says they are a different kind of property that deserve the basics like shelter, food and water if they rely on humans to survive.

HSUS offers a full menu of training on the humane treatment of animals. James said there is an appetite to have further training sessions led by HSUS in the future.