ASPCA Study Stresses Role of Dog and Cat Cruelty Investigations

Findings conclude that officers need further training in enforcing dog and cat cruelty laws.

The ASPCA released a research study this month that stresses the critical role of nationwide dog and cat services and dog and cat cruelty investigations. The study also highlights the obstacles that law enforcement professionals face in responding to dog and cat abuse.

The study, “Public and Professional Perspectives on Animal Cruelty,” reveals that only 19 percent of law enforcement officers stated they received formal dog and cat cruelty training. Forty-one percent said they are familiar with dog and cat cruelty laws in their jurisdiction, but fewer (30 percent) admitted to being familiar with the penalties of dog and cat abuse.

The study, taken from a nationwide sample of law enforcement professionals in the United States, also defines the three major obstacles that law enforcement professionals face in responding to dog and cat abuse cases: dog and cat cruelty cases are considered a low priority by leadership; law enforcement lacks staff with special knowledge in animal cruelty cases; and finally, no facilities exist for long-term impoundment of animals kept as evidence.

“These findings validate what we have long assumed — that there is a major need for training for officers charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws and investigating cruelty cases,” said Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects for the ASPCA.

The research also found that a majority of law enforcement officers surveyed (78 percent) believe that dog and cat abusers are more likely to be involved in interpersonal violence or other violent crimes.

“The link between animal cruelty and human violence is well documented and is a well-known phenomena among law enforcement,” Lockwood said. “But animal cruelty training is still severely lacking in most cities, mostly due to a lack of resources and funding.”

In a tough economy, dogs and cats are even more at risk. According to a content analysis conducted as part of this research study, media reports of dog and cat abandonment, a form of animal cruelty, topped the news in the South Atlantic region of the United States from March to June of 2010. Incidentally, three states in the South Atlantic region (Georgia, Florida and Maryland) were included in RealtyTrac’s highest foreclosure rate list for June 2010. Similarly high media reports of dog and cat abandonment were seen in California, historically known as having a high foreclosure rate and ranked No. 4 in RealtyTrac’s highest foreclosure rates for June 2010.

Lockwood says the organization offers staff with specialized knowledge on dog and cat abuse and has developed partnerships with shelters to help facilitate temporary housing for dogs and cats seized in such cases. He adds that the ASPCA supports local agencies across the country with law enforcement training programs and other resources.

The city of Baltimore, for example, recently signed into law an Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, a board that works to help the city prevent and prosecute dog and cat cruelty, including dog fighting. The commission was started at the ASPCA’s behest as a task force in July 2009 following the fatal burning of a dog named Phoenix. Recommendations of the commission include training law enforcement and animal welfare professionals who respond to dog and cat cruelty cases throughout Maryland and assisting in the drafting of anti-animal cruelty legislation.

The ASPCA commissioned the six-month study, which was conducted from January through June 2010 by two market research firms: the Southeastern Institute of Research, Inc. (SIR) and Symscio. The research study probed three audiences: the general public, law enforcement officers and the media through focus groups, online surveys as well as a media content analysis. The online surveys included a nationwide sample of 1,200 respondents from the general population and 500 law enforcement respondents.

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