Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Custody Considerations in Animal Control. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What if your District attorney’s office does not prioritize animal mistreatment cases? And as a result, may not file charges for up to eight months after a case. Can you make some suggestions on how to deal with situations like this?
Adam Leath: Sure. So, Mallory again, I’m not sure what state that you’re in, but it is very important for you to refer to what your State. If you have a civil remedy, again, that’s not a process that the prosecutor is going to be doing if it is civil, which most of the time it is. So, you have to actually consult with an attorney that’s representing your organization. So, your counsel can file that petition. And the nice thing about the civil process is it is not dependent upon the outcome of the criminal case. So regardless of the outcome of what happens, whether he is charged or isn’t charged or a jury finds them guilty or not guilty, the civil process for you to obtain that custody can already take place. And it can happen quickly. And as we’ve talked about in some of our other webinars and some of the other presenters have discussed in the Justice Clearinghouse webinars, is the responsibility for cultivating that relationship with your prosecutor actually relies on you. Even though the prosecutor that, you know, in an ideal world, would have the time and the ability to get familiar with each and every person. And, you know, take each and every case, they have hundreds of them. And oftentimes, they’re provided with an impossible task to find resolution in all of them. So, while I would challenge you that your perception is the prosecutor doesn’t take it seriously. What might actually be taking place is they are just working with what they’re dealt with. There could be more serious charges that are levied at the exact same time, the same defendant. That prosecutor may also be looking at what’s likely. So, they’re providing, you know, the plea that makes the most sense. The individual may not have scored to prison or may not be a habitual offender. So, you know, I would argue that the prosecutor is oftentimes not able to provide as much attention as they want to every single case because they have so many, just like we do. So, if we take on that responsibility, sit down with them, reach out to them ahead of time before the cases sort of is thrust upon them but even today before your case happens, a little bit of education, a little bit of, direct hands-on communication with them, cultivating that rapport earlier on makes it a little easier for you to articulate the need for charges to be levied in the future.
Audience Question: How did, how are the dogs, were they able to get back up to weight? Did they recover from being so skinny? What ended up happening?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question, and once a veterinary team was able to normalize those values, the dog, and actually did put on weight, and both were adopted. So, it was a great outcome, for them. But, because there was no treatment because those underlying medical conditions weren’t being addressed, you know, the owner just, providing food, and, that was it, it was not enough. So, we wanted to make sure that they did get the appropriate treatment and they did receive the appropriate diagnosis from a licensed veterinarian.
Audience Question: How do you establish costs incurred if an animal was not housed separately? For example, is housed with other animals? So, one cannot separately identify costs associated with daily care and so on.
Adam Leath: You would establish a daily rate, most shelters are going to have an established daily rate for fees for an owner who’s, let’s say, reclaiming their pet from your shelter, we just extrapolate that out to these cases. So, for those charges that we talked about in this particular case, the $4500 was broken out by the costs that were incurred after the emergency veterinarian. The supplies that we utilized here at our clinic and animal services. And also, the daily fee that we have to pay for pets to be sheltered at the local shelter. So, if they’re housed or group-housed with, let’s say, other stray animals, you know, you’re not dividing out your entire budget. Most agencies have an established fee schedule. So, we’re just charging them as though, you know, we’re sheltering any other pet. You will have to work directly again with your prosecutor. There are options, obviously cost affidavits that have to be filled out, but it needs to be costs that you’ve incurred. And I would argue that you know, that daily rate is fair and reasonable, as that’s what anyone in the public would have to pay if their pets were housed at the shelter.
Audience Question: Referring to some of the photographs of the animals that you showed earlier. And he says, I’ve heard that photographs should include the identification of the animals, the location, and the date. And he was noticing for those pictures, it seems like that information wasn’t there, was it just remove for personal protection, or maybe, did you ever have a reason for not including that information?
Adam Leath: That’s a great question, and you are correct. The series of photos, we always begin with that case board. So, the date, the time, the location, the case number, who the person taking the photographs is, and where the location of the photographs being taken. So, that’s the, generally, the first couple of photographs within the series. We generally take hundreds of photographs of any one particular animal, so these were actually taken within that process. But we’re not in the first couple of photos that we took, but you’re absolutely correct, it’s always important. And we do submit all of the photos. So, all hundreds of the photos that we took about Sadie and Baby were all provided to the prosecution and the defense. So that they could take that information and look at the entire, you have documentation that we took of that particular dog. But you’re absolutely right, there needs to be a case board in the beginning series of your photographs to ensure that you’re dealing with the exact same pet and that you can show where it moved throughout that criminal process.
Audience Question: Some officers would prefer to leave animals that are not critical with the owner, with the care order, especially when it involves large animals and livestock. Do you have any suggestions on how to prevent the owner from sneaking animals off the property, and hiding them or even disposing of them?
Adam Leath: It’s a serious problem, and our statute also allows for that to take place. The jurisdiction can decide to leave the animals or cease them in place, or impound them in place as some referred to it, as it is a challenge. Because, if you’re at that property, and you, for instance, aren’t serving a warrant at that property, how are you going to maintain control? How are you going to maintain the security of that property? And how long are you going to allow that to happen? So, I am not a huge fan of impounding animals in place. We’d like to give owners the opportunity to comply first. So, for instance, if Mr. Failla had said, “Oh, my gosh, you’re right, let me take Sadie and Baby to the veterinarian. Let’s go see what they think is wrong, and we’ll get it treated. I just didn’t realize that I’ve been out of town for the last couple of weeks.” If that had been the angle in which he chose, we would have probably had been faced with a far different outcome. But because he was so combative because he refused to provide that care, we were forced to ensure that those pets got the care. So, I would say that in your example, even in livestock cases, you’ll give the owner the opportunity, “Hey, I’m going to give you 24 to 48 hours. To get someone out here, I know that you can’t do at this very moment.” But that also depends on what condition the animals are in. If we’re talking about, you know, something that’s very egregious, we’re talking about something that we’re very concerned about. With Sadie and Baby, they were having difficulty standing. They would stand up and then fall over. We’re very concerned that that was something pretty egregious. That’s up to you. You may decide that it’s not as egregious, or you may decide that you want to give them that opportunity, that owners still would be responsible for footing the bill to bring that particular pet to their veterinarian. So that would defer some of your costs. But what does the veterinarian say? “Yes, these pets are in bad condition, and it’s because they weren’t provided with adequate care.” Might you then use that information, and would you be charging the owner? Those are all decisions and discussions that you have to have with your prosecutor and are very situation-specific. But I would say, you know, sometimes you have no other option, particularly when we’re talking about large animals. I would say that if you can avoid it, try not to just impound in place as you have a warrant. I don’t know how long many agencies are willing to sit at a property. But if you’re talking, you know, days, you’re probably going to get a lot of pushback. Certainly, they’re not going to be able to stay at the property for months, and you’re right, The owners still have access to their property in most situations. And they could remove animals and take them to, and from the property, which creates a huge issue for you and your case. So, I would say if you can avoid it, try to, if you can avoid it, you know, getting a veterinarian out to that property as soon as possible and even being there. While the veterinarian is there so that you hear directly from them, what are they diagnosing? What did they observe? Is that consistent or inconsistent with a lack of care? Asking those specific questions might be able to give you the leverage that you need to the enforceability remove if you’re forced to do that or you find that that’s what’s necessary.
Audience Question: We had a case where an agency seized horses unlawfully and kept a mare with an intact stallion. We suspect that the mare was covered. Can the agency be held responsible for costs going forward if the Mayor does indeed is pregnant and I know obviously you’re not an attorney and certainly the point of the webinar’s not our officers are for legal suggestions but I think it’s a very concerning in a very serious issue likely?
Adam Leath: In reality, these cases, you don’t have to look very far to see the liability. There’s liability everywhere, which is why we want to do the best job that we can and we want to make sure that we’re always standing on solid legal ground. If it’s called into question that you have these animals and you have not secured lawful custody, you’re liable for everything. You’re technically liable. You’re already paying for the cost incurred for those animals, and the court may determine that the animals need to be returned if you filed for a petition. That doesn’t mean that you know, you’re necessarily going to have to pay those costs. The Court could make the owner pay those costs, or you may have to. So, there’s, there’s liability everywhere in doing the nature of the work that we do. But I would highly suggest, you know, as you just outlined, if you don’t have, just, really focus on the difference between, you know, physical custody and legal custody. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean that you are the legal custodian that you are the owner of that property. The law looks at it as property, so make sure that you have legal custody not just possession.
Audience Question: What do you think about doing about requiring community service with animals as rehabilitation? Do you think you can help create empathy or awareness?
Adam Leath: You know, I would highly, I would be highly suspect in even considering an individual who’s potentially charged and convicted of any type of animal abuse, to be having access of any kind with animals. For us, we don’t support that here at our agency. We have found that you know, we don’t want those individuals to, we already know what their proclivities might be. We don’t want there to be access to those animals, whether they do, what they did before or not, or they learned their lesson or not. We don’t want the animals to be put in a vulnerable position. So that there that the individual, the perpetrator may have access to that. So, we don’t do that here, but that’s a decision that you and your agency would have to consider, but we don’t suggest that the court order anything, other than no-contact order with animals or any activity involving animals. We also go further and ensure that, in the order, the individual does not have care, custody, and control of an animal involved in any business venture involving animals, or even be in a place where animals are present, if at all possible.
Audience Question: Is there mandatory education for animal care and understanding for those that have been charged and convicted of animal cruelty?
Adam Leath: In Florida specifically, we can mandate anger management classes, depending upon how many times the individual has been charged. But in terms of education on appropriate animal ownership, that’s not something that is covered in our statute.
Host: I know in a couple of other jurisdictions, California certainly comes to mind. They do have existing programs. And I think this is a situation in other jurisdictions as well, where they can require people to take educational programs. I’m actually trying to find a webinar about that right now, and, of course, I’m not finding it, but we actually had a webinar about it, how to put together some of those educational programs, so, just to let you all know.
Audience Question: Anne wanted to share that one issue that she sees with the Florida law is that it allows only for expenses incurred by the officer or the agency. And asks, would volunteer sheltering groups might want to offer their services be able to bill the agency or would they need to absorb the costs?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, they need to bill the agency. And while that might be a tough pill to swallow for the agency, it’s the only way in which the court can award the restitution of those costs. Unless the non-profit is considered an agency under the statute. You are going to have to bill because it does dictate that or the agent has to incur those costs before the court can consider restitution.
Host: Christina McCale, our editor, was able to find that course. And it was, the title of the course is, Reducing Recidivism: Creating a Responsible Pet Ownership Program. And we’re actually going to copy that link into the audience. And it is a recorded Justice Clearinghouse Webinar. So certainly, if you’re a NACA member, you should be able to have access to it. But it’s a fascinating program. They provided some amazing details on how that works, and how to set up your own program.
Audience Question: Do you have any statistics on the number of ACO’s and or agencies who have been reprimanded for removing an animal without following local statutes around seizure?
Adam Leath: That’s a really great question. I have not seen there be anybody of research pointing to specific statistics regarding that. I can tell you from my own experience having consulted in previous positions even at the national level. Unfortunately, it is far too common. I can’t tell you how many times, you know, they would reach out, agencies would reach out asking for resources. And when you start asking how they obtain the animals, it was unfortunate to hear, “Well, we just removed them.” And when you start digging deeper, was there a warrant? “Well, yes, but it had to do with some other type of activity.” It didn’t list the animals, or “No, we didn’t have a warrant, we just knew they needed care.” So you have to, if you’re going to involve yourself and your agency is going to find itself in the cross-hairs of these types of situations, you’ve got to play them out now, you’ve got to understand what the state allows you to do. How you can do it. And what steps you have to take in order to make sure that you’re, you’re going to get to the ultimate outcome you’re looking for, which is custody of the animals. So, you have to, you have to really focus on your state-specific, what you have to get done, and have those discussions with your prosecutor. Have those discussions with your legal counsel. If it’s a civil process in your state. Have those discussions now. Talk to them about it, because chances are, they may not have any experience with it either, or it could be a learning experience for them. But, I would much rather have that conversation today so that we can sort of iron out any of those challenges than when I’m staring at a property with multiple animal victims and now I’m depending upon them to hopefully do the right thing and do it the way it needs to get done for me to get custody. I don’t like trying to learn on the fly, especially when we know that these situations are going to happen. We should prepare for them now.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Custody Considerations in Animal Control.