The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team frequently responds to natural disasters and is commonly called upon by state and municipal governments and other animal welfare partners to lend expertise during large-scale animal rescue operations.
The Investigations Division responds to situations involving animals that have been neglected and/or abused. As experts in our field, they assist in all aspects of the criminal investigation and provide expert testimony as needed.
Here's a look at the people who lead the FIR Team's efforts.
Tim Rickey heads up the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team. Under Rickey's leadership, the team responds to natural disasters and animal cruelty situations throughout the country. From hurricanes and floods to dog fighting raids and other large-scale animal cruelty cases, the team works tirelessly with local law enforcement and animal welfare agencies to rescue animals from life-threatening situations and provide them with the essential care they need.
Rickey's 20-year career has been devoted to animal welfare issues, first as an animal caretaker at the Joplin (Missouri) Humane Society and as an animal control officer for 11 years at Joplin Animal Control. He joined the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) in 2002 as a statewide animal cruelty investigator. Previously, he was the director of the Animal Cruelty Task Force and Disaster Response team. Rickey is regarded as a national expert in disaster response.
In July 2009, while with HSMO, Rickey led the largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history, covering eight states and leading to the seizure of more than 500 dogs in one day. As a result of his invaluable contributions, Rickey was one of four recipients of the ASPCA's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award in 2009.
Rickey attended the University of Missouri—Columbia's National Cruelty Investigation School. He is a frequent instructor on such topics as blood sports, puppy mills and animal hoarding. He earned diplomas in veterinary technology, as well as in wildlife, forestry and conservation, from Thompson Learning Institute.
A Joplin native, Rickey lives near St. Louis. His family includes two cats, four dogs, three horses, four goats and 17 chickens—all rescues.
Kathryn Destreza is responsible for overseeing and coordinating investigations within the FIR team. She previously served as Southeast Regional Director for the team.
In 2010, Destreza led one of the largest cockfighting cases in Florida's history. In addition to leading large-scale animal cruelty investigations in her region, she has also been a key player in establishing Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the nation's first dog fighting DNA database.
Prior to joining the ASPCA, Destreza served for more than 17 years as the animal services director and director of humane law enforcement for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where she led the largest animal rescue operation in history, during Hurricane Katrina.
Destreza has taught various courses on animal cruelty, blood sports and disaster preparedness, and she has led presentations on animal cruelty at several professional veterinary conferences.
Prior to her work in animal welfare, Destreza served as an engineer with the U.S. Navy. She now lives in North Carolina with her three dogs and two cats.
Dr. Dick Green
Director of Disaster Response
Dr. Dick Green is responsible for leading the efforts of the Disaster Response department, which covers natural and man-made disasters, as well as animal rescue operations. He will also oversee the ASPCA's internal disaster readiness program and develop partnerships with national and local agencies to enhance the organization's disaster response capabilities.
Dr. Green joined the ASPCA from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), where he served as emergency response manager of disasters. During his time at IFAW, Dr. Green established and chaired the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) in early 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. NARSC is comprised of 13 animal welfare groups, including the ASPCA, and is the first coalition in the nation that is dedicated to working with all levels of government and non-government agencies on major human-animal emergency issues.
Dr. Green is a frequent speaker on such topics as best practices in animal evacuations, relief and recovery efforts. He has a doctorate in education from Brigham Young University, and was an assistant professor at Gonzaga University and the University of Puget Sound.
Dr. Rhonda Windham, MVB
Director, Veterinary Field Forensics
Dr. Rhonda Windham is the Forensic Veterinarian for the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response (FIR) team, and assists with animal cruelty investigations. She works closely with the FIR Investigations and Blood Sports divisions on criminal cases.
Recently, she expanded and developed medical treatment protocols to support ASPCA-established emergency shelters for large-scale animal cruelty cases. She has worked with outside agencies and responders to support shelter veterinary medicine and provide rescued animals with essential care.
Previously, Dr. Windham worked as one of two forensic veterinarians at the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, where she collaborated exclusively with ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement department, processing live and deceased animals for criminal investigations and providing expert testimony on the behalf of animals in court.
Dr. Windham is a member of the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association (IVFSA). She received a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science from California Polytechnic State University and a veterinary degree from the School of Veterinary Medicine at University College Dublin. She lives with her Irish cat, Mini-Mu, in New York City.
Dr. Sarah Kirk, DVM
Dr. Sarah Kirk is responsible for expanding and developing medical protocols, recruiting and training medical staff, and developing a standardized medical response for emergency sheltering. As Medical Director, Dr. Kirk serves as the primary veterinarian for all FIR deployments, ensuring that the animals under the supervision of the ASPCA FIR Team receive top-notch preventive care, medical diagnosis and treatment.
Before assuming her current role, Kirk worked closely with the FIR Team as a responder during the Caboodle Ranch rescue. Prior to working with the FIR Team, Dr. Kirk worked for several non-profits in Ohio and Florida, providing medical care for pets of the indigent and performing spay/neuter surgery for shelter pets, free-roaming cats and other animals.
She received her Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University. Dr. Kirk lives in Ocala, Florida, with her six cats and two horses.
Director of Planning and Field Operations
Joel Lopez is responsible for overseeing operations, including logistics and planning, as well as providing leadership in the field for natural and man-made disasters as part of the field response team. Additionally, he oversees the department's Shelter Partnership program, which allows the ASPCA to quickly establish an animal placement program with various national and local agencies to provide a second chance for animals rescued from overcrowded facilities and cruel situations.
Lopez has been a key player in establishing emergency distribution centers during disaster response operations where supplies, provided by PetSmart Charities, Inc., are distributed to various communities in need.
Prior to joining the FIR team, Lopez served as an administrative and outreach manager for the ASPCA's Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic, where he directed grassroots outreach efforts.
Lopez began his animal rescue career as a volunteer for the ASPCA Disaster Response team in 2008. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his two rescue dogs, Molly and Charlie.
Director of Blood Sports
Terry Mills joined the ASPCA in October 2010 to lead the new Blood Sports division of the Team. The division is dedicated to providing training to law enforcement and investigating blood sports, such as dog fighting and cockfighting, across the country.
Mills is widely known in the animal welfare community for his work on the federal dog fighting raid in 2009 that covered eight states and resulted in more than 100 arrests and the seizure of more than 500 dogs in one day.
Shortly after joining the ASPCA, Mills assisted in one of Florida's largest cockfighting cases. In 2011, Mills worked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a United States Attorney's office to assist in the rescue and forensic evidence collection of 41 dogs associated with dog fighting in Halifax, Virginia.
Prior to joining the ASPCA, Mills spent more than 30 years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, where he investigated major crimes.
Mills also leads training workshops across the country on animal fighting.
Regional Director, Midwest Region
Kyle Held investigates and responds to situations involving animal victims of natural disasters and animal cruelty cases within the Midwest region.
In addition to leading large-scale disaster response operations in his region, Held has successfully led large-scale animal cruelty investigations from Ohio to Arkansas.
Prior to joining the ASPCA, Held served as a statewide animal cruelty investigator for 11 years at the Humane Society of Missouri. Early in his career, Held worked at various veterinary hospitals, and later owned a horse training and boarding facility in Washington. He frequently provides workshops on blood sports and animal handling courses for law enforcement officials, animal welfare professionals and veterinarians.
Held resides in Jackson, Missouri. His family includes three dogs, two horses, a bird, a three-foot python and nine cats—including a 12-pound Persian named Clyde, who was rescued from a hoarding case in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania.
Regional Director, Southeast Region
Based at the Veterinary Medical Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Adam Leath investigates and responds to situations involving animal victims of natural disasters and animal cruelty cases in the Southeast region.
Leath was most recently the operations manager for Lee County Domestic Animal Services in Fort Myers, Florida, where he oversaw the prosecution of all criminal and civil violations of state and local ordinances relating to animals. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing a working relationship with Florida's 20th Judicial Circuit to help increase penalties for felony animal cruelty crimes, spearheading training for animal control officers, and helping lead Lee County's Hoarding Task Force.
Leath started his career in animal welfare in 2003 at the University of Tennessee's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and later worked as a veterinary technician in Knoxville. He holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Tennessee.
Regional Director, Northeast Region
George O’Brien is responsible for conducting investigations and responding to situations involving animal victims of natural disasters and animal cruelty cases in the Northeast region.
Prior to joining the ASPCA, O’Brien served more than 25 years with the New York Police Department, where he started out as a police officer and retired as an inspector. Most recently, he supervised three divisions, managing a staff of 324 investigators involved in sensitive criminal investigations. Previously he worked as an EMT-paramedic and served active duty in the U.S. Army infantry and as a reservist firefighter in the Air Force.
O’Brien received his Bachelor of Science degree in general studies and a certificate in counseling from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. O’Brien is a graduate of University of Missouri-Columbia's National Cruelty Investigation School and is an expert-level certified humane animal investigator.
He lives with his three rescue dogs, two Basset Hounds and a Yorkie.
Senior Shelter Manager
Ehren Melius is responsible for overseeing all aspects of emergency sheltering for the Field Investigations and Response Team during large-scale cruelty seizures, natural disasters and other sheltering operations. Melius is responsible for the set-up and design of the emergency shelter. Once animals are brought into the shelter, Melius oversees their direct care, working closely with the Medical Director and Behavior Leads to provide a safe and healthy environment for the animals.
Before assuming his current role, Melius worked at the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA for nearly 12 years. He held a variety of roles within the organization, including medical manager, animal cruelty investigator and shelter manager. For the last two years, Melius has been a responder for the FIR Team.
Melius resides in upstate New York and shares his home with his Pit Bull, Ren, Australian Shepherd mix, Roo, and his two cats, Jimmy and Slinky.
Jessica Rushin is responsible for the strategic development of FIR's Partnership Program and response partners. Response partners are shelters and other agencies across the United States that partner with FIR to place cruelty victims and provide on-the-ground support during FIR operations. As a member of the operations team, Rushin also participates in the planning of deployments and provides leadership in the field.
Rushin has been part of the ASPCA since 2007. Jesse previously served as a leader in the Client Services team working out of the Midwest ASPCA office, overseeing programs related to the Spay/Neuter program in NYC, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and the ASPCA Pet Nutrition and Science Advisory Service. During her time with Client Services, Rushin volunteered as an ASPCA Disaster Response Team member.
Rushin shares her home with hound mix Brutus, Min Pin mix Rudie and three cats: Fudgie, Danzig and Claudio.
Gina Manke is responsible for overseeing and expanding the Field Investigations and Response Team’s responder program. Manke leads the team’s efforts in responder outreach and recruitment, information management, and scheduling for field deployments. She also provides leadership during field responses to cruelty cases and natural disasters.
Before assuming her current role, Manke worked closely with the FIR Team for eight months as a consultant. She previously served as American Humane Association’s program coordinator for the Red Star Animal Emergency Services Team. She began her animal rescue career volunteering with horse rescue organizations and serving on the board of directors for a non-profit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating neglected horses to use in equine-assisted therapy programs.
A Virginia native, Manke received a degree in public policy with a focus in criminal justice from James Madison University. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her rescued Lab/Pit mix, Quincy.
Molly White joined the ASPCA in April of 2012 to help assist with day-to-day operations of the FIR Team. As administrative assistant, White is responsible for invoice processing, finance tracking and team communications. She also provides onsite and remote support during field responses to cruelty cases and natural disasters.
Before assuming her current role, White completed a summer FIR internship and spent seven months as a consultant. Between her internship and joining the FIR Team, White completed her Bachelor’s degree in zoology at Michigan State University. She began her animal career volunteering with a local therapeutic horsemanship program in Michigan.
A Spring Lake, Michigan, native, White now lives in New York City with her rescued cat, Chauncey.
Transport and Equipment Assistant
Richard Danner's responsibilities include the transport of cruelty and disaster victims to shelters where they will have a second chance at a happy life. Richard began at the ASPCA as a consultant driver and officially joined the team in March 2011.
Danner also manages animal rescue equipment and the sizable FIR fleet. Before coming to the ASPCA, Richard performed animal transport and vehicle maintenance in the animal welfare industry for several years. During that time, he helped transport dogs from puppy mills in Canada to the U.S. Before joining the ASPCA team, Danner drove a semi-trailer truck for 30 years.