We have our own version of Cagney and Lacey at the Peninsula Humane Society and I like to say our leading ladies’ bite is worse than their bark. Christina and Vaughn (both too young to remember the 1980s cop show) make up our Cruelty Investigations team, with Christina as Lead Investigator. They are among the most likeable, upbeat people around, despite the fact that they see horrific acts of animal cruelty.
I have photos of my family and dog in my office. Their office is filled with photos I can’t easily describe here. Cases of unimaginable and intentional cruelty or cases where owners’ neglect has reached a point where it’s become cruelty.
Animal lovers cannot stand to think about such things. I can’t. But my co-workers and I take comfort in a few things. For one, we see so many people who provide the absolute best treatment for their animals. We also have Christina and Vaughn and, equally important, an organization which has made a commitment to providing an outstanding anti-cruelty program. We are incredibly fortunate in that we have a District Attorney’s Office which feels the same way about animal abusers as we do. And, we have generous supporters who fund this vital work; our Cruelty Investigations Department is funded entirely by donations.
We don’t actually look for cruelty. It comes to us; sadly a few times each day, on average. We receive reports or calls from local residents and from local police who encounter acts of cruelty when responding to other matters. And, we respond to every call, every report.
In some instances, we get the calls too late and all we can do is build the best case possible against the abuser. A few years ago, a resident brought her unresponsive dog to a local veterinarian, who couldn’t revive the dog. Visible injuries suggested abuse and a necropsy confirmed it. The little dog was brutally kicked multiple times by the woman’s boyfriend, suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and ruptured liver before dying. The dog suffered, concluded the vet. After admitting to kicking the dog four of five times for urinating on the bed, the boyfriend was arrested on felony animal cruelty charges.
Other cases that begin horribly can and do have happy endings. There was the case of a homeless man seen kicking a dog in public. After providing supportive care for the frightened pup, we adopted her to a Redwood City police officer. From an abusive “home” on the streets to the home of someone who’s dedicated a career to protecting people.
And, two years ago, we encountered a local couple having trouble caring for a few dozen miniature horses. Their herd was growing to a point where they were beginning to feel overwhelmed; they willingly surrendered their animals to the Peninsula Humane Society. To be clear, the care didn’t constitute cruelty; our intervention and their cooperation made sure it never got to that point. Our organization reached out to the media and friends in the equine world. In the end, we placed all of the horses in new homes within a week; two went to a local organization, Riley’s Place, which provides animal visits for kids with terminal illnesses.
In all cases, the Peninsula Humane Society has no authority to assign guilt or penalties; that’s left to a jury or our District Attorney’s Office. Our role is clear. We respond to all calls, remove animals from harm’s way when necessary, treat injured and sick animals and present reports detailing the animals’ conditions to the DA’s Office. Our cases are solid; they are pursued, and abusers are punished. Animals fortunate enough to recover get new lives with second chances we’ve afforded them.
When we have significant stories to tell, we reach out to the media. This is not done to embarrass abusers. We do this for a few other reasons. Front-page stories build faith for the people who support our investigative work and they send a message that animal abusers will be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law in San Mateo County.
People may continue to think “I can’t believe animal abuse happens here, in our community!” Hopefully, they’ve come to expect and take comfort in our response to these tragedies.