On May 12, at the Third Annual Veterinary Forensics Conference in Orlando, FL, the ASPCA unveiled our newest mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) response vehicle, a 2010 Subaru Outback generously donated by Subaru of America, Inc. The Outback is customized specifically for our Veterinary Forensics team, and will help support and expand the work we are able to do with our Mobile Animal CSI Unit, a state-of-the-art laboratory on wheels.
The new CSI response vehicle will be used for field work to transport animal victims, store evidence from crime scene investigations and provide access to areas that are typically off-limits due to challenging terrain. It is outfitted with many unique features, including a slide-out cargo floor, evidence refrigerator, laptop computer station and exterior power outlets. The vehicle will be based in Gainesville, FL, with Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics.
Dr. Merck is one of nation’s premiere forensic veterinarians and often provides expert testimony in animal cruelty trials around the country. In 2007, she was instrumental in assisting with the recovery and analysis of forensics from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels—work that helped to produce evidence that led to a guilty plea. With the addition of the ASPCA’s custom CSI vehicle, Dr. Merck can continue to do her essential work and ensure that perpetrators of animal cruelty receive proper punishment.
Action Tip: Want to help crack down on cruelty in your community? Get to know your local animal control officer! Search our database of nearly 3,000 community SPCAs, humane societies and animal control organizations to find the person responsible for enforcing animal cruelty laws in your area.
On May 14, investigators from the SPCA Serving Erie County charged Beth Hoskins with 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after 73 horses, 53 cats and four dogs were found living in deplorable conditions on her Erie County farm.
"These are definitely some very serious charges," says Jeff Eyre, ASPCA's Northeast Director of Field Investigations and Response. "But it's important to remember that each animal involved was a life that was abused."
Eyre was one of several members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team deployed this past March to assist in what has been declared the area's largest farm animal rescue ever. For more than two months, the Team oversaw the sheltering and care of 74 Morgan-type horses recovered from the scene. The Team also played a vital role in nurturing the abused equines, who eventually regained confidence and trust.
"I can remember the first days after the rescue, when the horses would react to us with horror and fear. They were emaciated, dirty and their manes full of tangles and mats," says Eyre. "Today, these healthy animals can be gently walked with a halter lead and approach humans with interest and affection—that is a huge difference."
On April 30, the ASPCA's task came to a close, as the remaining horses were transported to new foster homes. "We achieved our goal to rehabilitate these horses, both physically and behaviorally," reports Eyre. "These are now happy horses, and I could not have asked for a better ending."
According to Eyre, the Team's next step is to prepare a report that documents the poor physical conditions the equines were found in, as well as their deplorable living conditions, and follows the improvements they have made since rescue.
While Hoskins' attorney maintains his client's innocence, the accused is scheduled for arraignment on May 26 in Aurora town court. To date, the total cost of the investigation, including animal care, has exceeded $110,000.
On March 16, under the authority and request of the SPCA Serving Erie County (NY) members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team were dispatched to assist in the sheltering management and care of 73 horses seized from what is believed to be the area's largest farm animal rescue ever. The animals were found living in deplorable and extremely unsanitary conditions on a farm in East Aurora, NY (about 20 miles southeast of Buffalo).
Jeff Eyre, the Northeast Director of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, was sent to the scene with other ASPCA staff skilled in horse handling. Over the past eight weeks, the group has played a vital role in helping to feed, water and clean the animals. More importantly, the team has spent time nurturing the horses, helping them to rebuild their broken spirits. On April 30, the mission came to a close, as the remaining horses were transported to new foster homes.
"Our on-site response is complete," says Jeff. "We achieved our goal to rehabilitate these horses, both physically and behaviorally. These are now happy horses, and I could not have asked for a better ending."
The following is the final in a series of field reports from Jeff on the ground in Erie County.
Final Field Report
We just finished loading the last seven mares onto the trailer—they will be making the hour drive to their new foster home. A total of 69 horses have been relocated to new homes over the past few weeks, and this group was our last haul. It has been through the great efforts of our team—including members of the ASPCA, American Humane Association, Days End and the SPCA of Erie County—that the moves went smoothly and all of the horses were rehomed without incident or injury.
Overall, our response has dramatically improved the lives of these animal victims—physically, behaviorally and mentally. I can remember the first days after rescue, when the horses would react to us with horror and fear. They were emaciated, dirty and their manes full of tangles and mats. Today, these healthy animals can be gently walked with a halter lead and approach humans with interest and affection. I have spent more than a month working with these abused and broken animals and have watched them recover little by little each day. I can now only describe my final goodbye as moving.
It was during the morning feeding—when my favorite sound of the horses munching hay filled the air. As I approached each stall, a head would appear, and I would receive a gentle nuzzle from a nose. There were no flared eyes, no ears pulled back, no pinning against the stall walls—these horses were at peace. They were comfortable in their surroundings and with me. At the end of this journey, I know that these are happy horses with enriched lives—and I could not have asked for a better farewell.
On May 11, Manhattan resident Chris Grant pled guilty to animal cruelty for beating his girlfriend's 10-pound dog in the elevator of his Harlem housing project. He was sentenced to three months in jail.
In early January, while investigating the fatal stabbing of a nine-year-old boy, police officers uncovered video footage of a resident abusing a small dog in the building's elevator. The surveillance tapes depicted 21-year-old Grant violently kicking a black-and-white Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix, named Chuvi-Duvi.
Grant was arrested by NYPD officers two days later and charged with torturing and injuring an animal and resisting arrest. Chuvi-Duvi was transported to the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital for treatment.
The ASPCA would like to commend the NYPD on taking swift and appropriate action in this case. Animal cruelty is a serious crime, and we are glad the victim in this case received justice.
In addition to his recent three-month sentence, Grant is currently serving a one-year jail term for an unrelated trespassing charge.
When disaster strikes, it is the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team's first priority to get into the field to save as many animals as possible. At the height of the recent flooding in Tennessee, the team navigated swift water currents, pulling struggling animals from floodwaters, out of trees and from dilapidated homes.
On May 8, a family who had been forced to leave pets behind placed a desperate call to authorities. "The family had been able to move the animals to higher ground before they were evacuated," reports Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "But this was almost four days ago, and we had no idea the conditions we would find them in."
Aided by the ASPCA's powerful and fully equipped search and rescue boat, the Team set off for the home in question. "In situations such as these, proper gear and equipment is vital for a successful rescue," says Kyle Held, Midwest Director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. "When doing water rescues, it's always the unseen that presents the biggest hazard. The murk could be covering shattered glass, wire fencing, even cars or other large objects that the boat could potentially hit—or worse, that a rescuer could step on or become entangled in"
Yet, the most eminent danger of floodwater is contamination. The water itself becomes a deadly toxic soup, which can cause serious harm to both humans and animals, reports Held. "It's polluted by everything you find in a home—sewage, kerosene, garbage, bleach and other hazardous chemicals—and it's everywhere."
Navigating the flood waters, the team arrived at the scene to discover a dozen chickens, a peacock and a goat congregated on a tiny area of dry land which was rapidly shrinking with the rising water. "When you see an emergency situation like this, the initial impulse can to be to rush in because you know the animals are in desperate need," reports Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "But you have to slow down, size up the entire scene and determine the safest course of action." An investigation of the home, uncovered a cat, as well.
After taking precautions, the team successfully secured the animals on the boat. During their final survey of the scene, they noticed a small Tabby cat stuck on top of what appeared to be a small trailer engulfed in water. "The cat was hiding in a small nook," says Cardona. "The amount of dry space left was so small, she was soaked, but surrounded by 4-feet of water, there was nowhere for her to go."
The ASPCA search and rescue boat has the capacity to hold dozens of animals comfortably. "As soon as the animals were secured in the boat, they fell asleep," says Joel Lopez, ASPCA's Logistics Manager. "Between the rain, followed by severe heat, and not having access to food or water, they were just exhausted. I like to think they were finally able to relax, now that relief had come."
The next step was to get the animals back to the shelter and decontaminated, a process that consists of repeated washings with Dawn liquid dish detergent. "We set up several decontamination stations at the shelter," explains Lopez. "These animals have been exposed to heavily polluted waters, and since they groom themselves by licking their fur or preening their feathers, the risk for serious illness is high."
At the shelter, a reunion of pets with their families is always a touching experience and this case was no exception. "The family was there to greet us as we arrived back at the shelter," says Lopez. "Emotions were high—they were just so happy to be reunited with their beloved pets."