The ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team  deploys many times a year—27 times in 2010—to rescue animal victims of abuse and neglect around the country. Here’s an inside look at how we execute these large-scale raids, rescuing hundreds of animals at a time and helping local law enforcement build a case against abusers.
- Planning and Set-Up
- Raid and Forensics
- Sheltering and Treatment
- Long-Term Commitment
Hundreds of dogs were kept at this Ohio hoarder’s property.
An ASPCA Regional Director of Field Investigations and Response gets a call requesting that the ASPCA help rescue animals from an abusive situation, and the wheels of a raid are set in motion.
When a Regional Director decides to take on a case, he meets with local law enforcement and begins conducting an investigation. The FIR Team is especially in demand to help with criminal investigations, but “where there are animals in need, that’s our priority,” says Jeff Eyre, Northeast Regional Director of Field Investigations and Response.
This Pennsylvania cat sanctuary became overcrowded and unsanitary.
Investigating a potential criminal case “can go a lot of different directions,” says Tim Rickey, head of the FIR Team. Regional Directors visit facilities and use computer research to determine if the situation is likely a criminal one. On average, Rickey says, that process takes two weeks. [Top]
Responders prepare carriers to rescue hundreds of dogs in Ohio.
Once Regional Directors think they may need to plan a raid, they call ASPCA Operations Director Allison Cardona, whose team solves the unique logistical puzzles presented by each case. Cardona and her team must decide how many people, which supplies and how many transport vehicles they need, as well as where they will house rescued animals. The operations team must also source materials such as crates and bedding from partners like PetSmart Charities.
An essential and early component of the planning process, Cardona notes, is ensuring that the team has established that local law enforcement has legal grounds to conduct a raid. “Just like with human crime, we need to have probable cause,” she says.
A rescue worker prepares a temporary shelter for the Ohio dogs.
When the Regional Director and Operations Director have coordinated a cohesive plan, the team springs into action. Using crates, pens, cleaning supplies, medical supplies and other items needed for standing up an emergency shelter, much of which is housed in the team’s main transport trailer in Missouri, members of the FIR Team begin staging the raid.
Often, a temporary shelter must be constructed from scratch—and it can’t always be out in the open. When the FIR Team is helping local law enforcement with a possible criminal case, it may need to bring supplies to town secretly. “We can’t just have everything show up at City Hall,” Rickey says.
“The other part,” Rickey adds, “is getting our team members there—and it is so much more work than it sounds.” Flights, rental cars and lodging must be booked for as many as 40 people right away, and that’s just the beginning. [Top]
Responders collect evidence during a Florida cockfighting raid.
Once the FIR Team is ready to carry out the raid, “we have pretty strict protocols on how we approach things,” says Rickey. The team arrives on the property and immediately sets to work conducting a full inventory of the animals, taking care to note any scars or injuries they have—all evidence to share with prosecutors for any future criminal proceedings. The team also collars and tags the animals.
A medical team stays with the FIR Team throughout this process, which requires about 20 to 30 people on a large-scale raid.
Tim Rickey begins removing cats from the Pennsylvania sanctuary.
Meanwhile, the ASPCA Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation Unit arrives to help local law enforcement with evidence collection and forensics. Evidence technicians walk through the property, take notes, snap photos and record video, as well as draw a site map and label all the cages or areas of the property. Team members go through paper and digital records, while the forensics team deals with higher-level evidence like blood spatter, gravesites and medications. [Top]
The ASPCA removes a Dachshund from a Mississippi puppy mill.
|Jeff Eyre places a dog on an Animal Transport Trailer in Ohio.|
As soon as possible, the FIR team brings the animals to a temporary emergency shelter using state-of-the-art Animal Transport Trailers. The team has two—one 40 feet and one 28 feet—and it’s ordering two more in 2011. The FIR team also relies on support from Sumter Disaster Animal Response Team, a Florida-based group that assists in animal rescues, to transport animals.
“Surprisingly, the actual removal part is the quickest for us,” says Rickey. “Our team can go in and remove 300 or 400 animals in less than a day.” [Top]
Cats are removed from the Pennsylvania sanctuary.
Veterinary professionals examine a dog in Ohio.
At the temporary shelter, the animals are greeted by a medical team, animal handlers, general staff and people to get them off the Animal Transport Trailer. They go through triage—where vets examine them and administer any necessary emergency treatments, as well as take notes on the animals’ overall condition and lay out a treatment plan. Then they are put in a carrier or enclosure to settle in before any additional treatment.
During their time at the emergency shelter, the animals receive continual treatment and care, and their behavior is evaluated by professionals. In addition, the animals’ improvement in health is documented as evidence. [Top]
A cat receives veterinary attention in Pennsylvania.
A happy adopter shows off his two new family members.
When the ASPCA becomes the legal guardian of rescued animals, we aim to place them in loving homes through our extensive network of shelter partners and rescues. Field Operations Manager Kristen Limbert “will have been making contacts with shelter partners around the country from day one,” says Rickey. Before placing cruelty victims with rescues, the ASPCA makes sure the animals have been thoroughly examined, both medically and behaviorally.
Increasingly, the ASPCA also hosts a local adoption event to help find forever homes for rescued animals. A July 2010 adoption event following a 400-cat rescue in Elk County, Pennsylvania , resulted in hundreds of adoptions—a success we plan to repeat. [Top]
Adopters line up at the Pennsylvania cat adoption event.
Joanne Smith still collaborates with the ASPCA.
“We want to approach investigations in a really holistic way and be a resource to local organizations,” Rickey says. So when the dramatic rescue work is done, the ASPCA sees all the details of a case through to the end. Our commitment to each community “never ends,” says Eyre, stressing that the ASPCA focuses on leaving local law enforcement agencies and local animal welfare organizations with the know-how and supplies they need to take on any future animal cruelty cases. And it seems to be working. “We haven’t gotten a lot of repeat calls,” Cardona says.
|ASPCA and Florida law enforcement work together on a cockfighting raid.|
Eyre told the story of Joanne Smith, an Elk County-based humane law enforcement officer, who started her own animal cruelty disaster response effort after working with the ASPCA last June. Eyre is now helping Smith set up a new cat sheltering facility for her region.
And Regional Directors remain heavily involved in the legal process of any criminal case, says Eyre, who notes that he is always working on four or five outstanding cases.
Says Cardona: “We don’t just place the animals and leave. We’re in for the long haul.” [Top]