Webinar presenters Emily Lewis and Kathleen Wood answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What was the result of Sammie’s case? Especially given the fact that his killer was a juvenile.
Emily Lewis: Yeah, actually, because of that, I don’t have a lot of information on the ultimate outcome of that case. I know that they did pursue file charges, but I don’t know the ultimate outcome, unfortunately.
Audience Question: How many states have laws as in Pennsylvania where the abuser may be required to pay restitution or the cost of care?
Kathleen Wood: So virtually all states have some form of restitution law, but those laws vary considerably. For example, in Kentucky, the restitution law only applies to cases involving horses and cases involving the sexual abuse of animals. And so, it’s pretty disparate how those restitution laws are going to be applied across the United States. So, most states have some version of bond or forfeit, which is where the defendant can be required to post the bond. This is what Pennsylvania has, where they’re required to post a bond for the cost of care and if they are unable or unwilling to do so, then the animals are forfeited, and you can rehome the animal. And about 38 States have that kind of scheme in their laws. The rest of the states have some kind of restitution, usually built into sentencing that allows the court to order the convicted offender to pay for those costs of care that have been incurred, but whether or not the defendant can actually afford to make those payments, whether you’ve ever going to actually see that money, that’s another matter
Audience Question: What states have mandatory vet reporting, or how many states have mandatory reporting?
Kathleen Wood: Yeah, so 21 states have mandatory veterinary reporting. And 19 of those do it by statute and two of them by administrative regulations. You can see a map of all of those laws on our web page, ALDF.org. If you search rankings, there’s a map of all of our rankings reports. And you can hit the drop-down menu and go to cross-reporting and Veterinary Reporting, and you can see up there all the different veterinary reporting laws.
Audience Question: Can you provide examples for the necropsy search warrants? Can you provide additional information or additional language?
Emily Lewis: Yes. A few. Chris, I don’t know what’s the best way to do that, but feel free to contact me directly, and I can provide that to you through E-mail, if that works, or I can send you a template. Just contact me directly at Elewis@aldf.org.
Audience Question: During your veterinary exam for evidence. Does law enforcement need to provide or specify all of what needs to be searched or measurements taken, like the wound size maintaining items within the animal? Or is that something a veterinarian will automatically know to do? Or does it vary from vet to vet?
Emily Lewis: I would say it’s kind of a combination of both. Of course, the veterinarian is an expert in doing the exams. They probably need some information from the investigating officer to understand what the law is that the officers investigating or the offense, the components of that so that they can know what might be helpful. I think it’s always really helpful for the officer and the veterinarian to have a conversation about the case because the veterinarian can provide additional questions to the officer after they’ve done the exam, which might lead to a better interview of a suspect in the case as well. But I think it is a combination of both, and there are a lot of good resources on this platform. And through the Animal Legal Defense Fund, to help do preliminary training for veterinarians on how to approach a forensic exam and how that’s different from a traditional exam.
Audience Question: Do all vets have the ability or the knowledge to do necropsies?
Emily Lewis: Yes. That’s something that is covered in vet school. However, I think there are some differences when it comes to forensic necropsies. But that doesn’t mean that the veterinarian isn’t the expert in these cases. I think that veterinarians, might not be trained initially to think about animal cruelty as something that they need to rule out when they’re examining an animal. So, once a veterinarian can understand it’s a possibility that this could happen from neglect or abuse, that becomes part of their rule-out lists or things to look for. I think they definitely have the ability and the expertise to do the exams that you need, in these cases, but it is helpful for them to have all the information, and not be operating in a vacuum, either. So, if they have the reports from law enforcement, witness statements, all of that, that’s really important to give to a veterinarian so they know what they’re looking for.
Audience Question: Piggybacking on that notion. One of our detectives is asking, can you share your opinions on using the Purina body condition scoring system to scale the canine’s condition?
Emily Lewis: I think there are a couple. There are varying opinions about body condition scoring charts. And what I usually say is that I think it’s important to be familiar with the chart that you’re going to use consistently, and the descriptive terms, used for each score. As a law enforcement agent, if you haven’t had a lot of training in scoring animals, I would encourage you to describe the animal using the terms that relate to those numbers, but maybe without actually assigning a number. That way, you’re not creating inconsistencies with the vet or an animal professional you’re using in that case. But you’re still getting the information across about what you’re seeing is wrong with that animal.
Audience Question: What does it mean to have a secure, and I’m putting air quotes around that secure facility, to preserve evidence? Does that mean that an animal who has evidence, does that mean that, that animal can’t be fostered through an agency’s foster program?
Emily Lewis: No, I think that it just means there are some extra precautions taken that allow you to track what individuals that animal has come in contact with. And we do have protective custody foster agreements that might have different stipulations than in your typical foster agreement for your shelter that would allow for case animals to be fostered out. And again, feel free to contact me directly to talk further about that option.
Audience Question: Is there a fee for ALDF to assist agencies who are in need of help and follow up with that? If we don’t have a vet on staff or have special facilities, do you know of grant funding that can help defray the costs of special testing, necropsies, etc.?
Kathleen Wood: Absolutely. There’s no cost for our services. We are a non-profit organization and we do have grants available for case investigations for necropsies, forensic testing, and even for costs of care of seized animals. So, if you’re interested in getting some of our legal services or applying for one of those grants, you can contact action1@ALDF.org e-mail that’s on the screen.