After the Webinar: Making the Call – Simple, Gross Neglect or Animal Cruelty. Q&A with Michelle Welch

Webinar presenter Michelle Welch answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Making the Call: Simple, Gross Neglect or Animal Cruelty. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Is simple neglect a case where the animal needs support, but it’s clearly not criminal yet. And gross neglect is the term for criminal neglect? 

Michelle Welch: They’re both criminal cases because they’re misdemeanors, right. Well, simple neglect is usually what in Virginia would be a class 4 misdemeanor. It’s fine, but what it means is it is not so bad that it’s a lesser misdemeanor, so it’s basically going to be a final offense unless if you’re a frequent flier. And then gross neglect is it really rises to cruelty. And cruelty is a deprivation so bad that the animal is suffering, or the animal is deprived of food, water, basically necessary shelter, or emergency veterinary treatment, which in Virginia is defined. So again, that that treatment is about alleviating suffering in some way or prevent disease progression. So, they’re both criminal, but one is lesser, it’s basically a ticket. Gross neglect would be they could actually arrest you, and jail you and then you would have to post a bond and stuff like that. It could also be, let me just add this gross neglect could also rise to the level of a felony. It just depends on your statute, because most of the time gross neglect, in many states, will be considered a felony level. And so, when it’s bad enough that’s when that penalty is either a higher misdemeanor where it’s jailable or a felony basically.



Audience Question: Can animal control officers take the temperature of an animal out in the field? 

Michelle Welch: They can, they can, and if you’re wondering if that some kind of, I think where the question goes, is that, you know, is that a violation of someone’s rights? It is not. Do you need to have permission to be there and or a search warrant? But you certainly can use that as a tool to see if the animal is okay, and we do that all the time.



Audience Question: Can you speak to the notion of lack of veterinary care, to prevent suffering? How does that fit into the charging discussion that you were just presenting? 

Michelle Welch: I’m really glad you asked that question, because I realized as soon I finished I didn’t spend a lot of time on veterinary care, right? Because so many of the cases that we see, where it’s the line between simple neglect and gross neglect, is all about the conditions. The conditions are so bad that they rise to the level of gross neglect and that higher crime that she should be charged. But that doesn’t mean that you should look at vet care as well. Often, when you’re boots on the ground, you get excuses for what’s going on with the animal. In that case, where I showed you the German Shepherd, she said that that emaciated dog came to her that way and was under vet care. And so, they went, and they found out that that wasn’t true, that the dog is another vet care. And so, you do need to look at whether they’ve given them any vet care at all. In one of my very first cases, the woman just let the dog get to the point, the dog was old, and he couldn’t get up and she didn’t provide any that care. And by the time we got it, it had maggot all up in its throat-chest area because they’ve been down on its chest for a very long time. And so, what that showed, where she gave it no vet care, and because it was down on the ground and no one’s caring for it at all, the maggots set in. And the dog had an underlying veterinary issue. I think he had like, some kind of heart issue, and it wasn’t treated. So again, you do need to see if they are giving them any vet care at all. And so, when you’re doing your investigation, the first thing out of your mouth, or one of the things out of your health should be, who’s your vet? Who do you take your dog to? And if that theme doesn’t match what you know to be true as an animal control officer, you feel like it’s not the truth. And then you follow up with the veterinarian that you find out who their veterinarian is. You ask for their veterinarian record to show that the animal is in their care. Especially if it’s an older animal, where the story could be true, that they take it to the vet. So, you want to rule out whether you know this woman, or this man is innocent and is doing what they need to do.



Audience Question: Would you please speak to the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System or NIBRS. The plan for NIBRS was to replace UCR by 2021 for all local state and federal agencies. Do you know the percentage of agencies across the nation that has now adopted the use of NIBRS? If it’s low and what’s the strategy to increase the usage? 

Michelle Welch: Let me just say this, animal welfare is doing a really good job of trying to get the word out, trying to make sure that those reports under NIBRS are increasing, and a lot of that is about training. So, first of all, for those who don’t know, NIBRS is National Incident Based Reporting System. And what it does is it tracks crime. And what police agencies do, is they report. Like how many homicides they have? How many and this is incident. This is not just convictions, it’s not just arresting. This is like incidents of this kind of violence, like how many, associated robbery. How many sexual assaults and so this is what’s been going on for a very long time? The one problem when it comes to animal crime is that a lot of animal control agencies are not under law enforcement. So, and not every law enforcement agency report through NIBRS. What the FBI has tried to do is get everyone on the same system. And some agencies have resisted that. Now, having said that, what’s happening now is that animal control agencies are being trained in on how to use it, and how to report those numbers to their law enforcement agency. So, if you’re an animal control that’s under a sheriff, or under a police department, then you’re much more liable to have reported your numbers for the animal crime. If you’re a standalone agency or you’re under a county administrator, or you’re a standalone agency within the city government, you don’t really have a way to report that, you have to develop a relationship with police agencies. So, what has happened in Virginia, is that our state police have really done a bang-up job. We went from hardly any reporting to like being one of the best. I think there’s one person above us in reporting right now, and it’s all due to my state police agents. ——- Turner, who was rolled out this training. Now, for those of you who don’t know what NIBRS is, they’ve broken down animal crime into four different categories: one is simple neglect and gross neglect. They put them together because they are similar one is harsher than the lesser, which is simple neglect. Then they put torture and intentional cruelty together, where there’s some kind of intentional animal cruelty going on. Then, they put animal fighting by itself, both dogfighting and cockfighting, and then the final category. The fourth category is animal sexual abuse, or some people call it bestiality. So, for their tracking all —– I do think you got to give it a bit of time, but AWI has really done a phenomenal job of trying to get those numbers, reported, and get people to the agency, they need to report them to.



Audience Question: So a follow-up to that question then, is, in cases like dogfighting or cockfighting where the charge gets reduced to a misdemeanor or warning, do you know how these are tracked so that the federal charges can be charged at a later date if not entered into NIBRS? Do you have any sense of what’s happening there in terms of tracking those reductions in charges? 

Michelle Welch: So, the reductions won’t matter for the animal, because it’s about the incident, so the way it comes, they would be coming as animal fighting, so it would stay that way. It’s not. So, I’ll say that it’s any, anytime you go out on a simple neglect as an animal control officer, that should be reported. Because you went, and, it was an incident, is not just an arrest. It does not have to evolve into a case. We want to know how many you’re going out, basically, what it is. And I think the good thing about that, and this is why I really urge Animal Control Officers to report to their law enforcement is because it’s going to show how prevalent animal crime is. We’ve never really, you know, we have a lot of snapshots, right. And it looks like we have a lot going on, but this will actually tell us just how prevalent it is. Just like rape incidents where they go out like, you know, they report that and then you can see, you can see these rises in crime, and they tell you things.



Audience Question: With differing animal breeds, how do you make the choice or judgment if a shelter is appropriate or not? So, for example, a husky that’s outside in the wintertime, versus a short-haired dog, like a chihuahua or a greyhound? How do we take those differences into consideration, especially when we’re approaching it in prosecution? 

Michelle Welch: Well, so, I think you figure out whether that shelter is really appropriate for that husky. Remember that picture I showed you of the pen that had the snow. Well, that was a husky, and the husky love being out ———— and so he was probably okay. The bottom line is, whatever the breed is, and that’s what most of the adequate shelter law today they have to be appropriate for the age, species, type of animal. Right. And so, a husky is going to be probably better. But can he survive when it’s 10 below, and in freezing rain, and he’s soaking wet? So those are judgment calls for sure. And you can, and I do not want you to believe, I don’t think you should have discretion. You certainly should have discretion, but like, a chihuahua out in the same weather, or a terrier dog or a pug. Like, they’re not going to survive the way a dog with a better coat, heavier coat might. But in the end, like a lot of people use that as an excuse, to keep their dog outside, and at the end of the day, the weather is going to determine whether the animal really should be outside or not.



Audience Question: We’re in April, we’re starting to head into warmer weather, and depending on the part of the country you’re in, we’re already seeing some pretty hot weather in certain parts of the country. The question Nick has is, Should we be ticketing for dogs who are left in hot cars, even when the temperature is in the sixties or seventies, or are we going back to we base it on the dog’s condition, and I know hot cars are an issue, Michelle? So, what’s the thought? 

Michelle Welch: I think he answered his question at the end. It depends on the condition of the animal, right? So, the bottom line is, we know that cars get pretty hot, pretty quick, and it’s going to, and what I would say is I would measure what the temperature is outside, and if the window is cracked, do the thermometer at the window to see what the temperature inside the car is. The other thing is the animal in distress, and if the animal is not moving around and it’s laying down now. I’m not talking about, you know, where it might be cold, and sleep in the car, right? I’m talking about where it’s clearly, in heat distress, and it is coming to issues with death, right or dying. When you, it really is the condition of the animal. Often, especially during the spring. I will be a part a dog in the car, and it’s pretty mild outside, and so that’s not a dog on my ———– ? But I rolled up to a grocery store and there’s now she has all the windows down, the owner. But the dog is panting, and it’s, you know, it’s above 85 at that point. As I go in there and go in this store and I tell them to call for her. Well, if she doesn’t come out, I’m going to call animal control, and it was a beautiful educational moment for this young woman because she rolled out. I say, “You can’t leave your dog out in the car like that it could die. And you obviously loved him.” And he was well-taken care of, a beautiful Pitbull. And she says, “I’m really only in for a minute.” I said, “I’ve been standing here for 10.” And then animal control rolled up right at that moment. And he goes, “Everything, okay, Michelle?” I was like, “I think you learned your lesson.” You know, again, I’m not saying that you know, we’ve got ——————- charge and seize every animal out there. But I do think education is the key. And the condition of the anima, are they being cared for? Like, with our exception, I just sent out a card that said, you cannot give the exception. If there’s not adequate care going on, or adequate shelter going on. In good conscience, you can, and if you do, and that animal dies, you can be liable for it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Making the Call: Simple, Gross Neglect or Animal Cruelty.



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