After the Webinar: Pocket Pets and Beyond. Q&A with Michelle Welch

Webinar presenter Michelle Welch answered a number of your questions after her webinar,  Pocket Pets and Beyond: The Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: How do you suggest we educate prosecutors that might not understand sentience? We removed 333 animals from a pet store, and we got charged for each animal, but the prosecutor did not include the hermit crabs, because they felt like they couldn’t experience pain and suffering. 

Michelle Welch: Well, I think they already know the answer to this question.

The fact that they did indict for you. I can’t but did let the charges happen, that’s pretty important. And I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I’ve seen a real sea change in across the years. I’ve been educating them for very, very long time. I can’t be mad at them for that. I can understand like just like that attitude from the judge that said, “Yeah I’ll give it to you for the puppy. Cute and cuddly wins the day.” We also know now the octopus, octopi, like, they are much smarter than we ever thought they were. My son, who’s a chef, refuses to eat octopi now. So, it’s a question of educating them about pain and sometimes, I think, you as an animal control officer, or an officer, or an animal advocate, they may not listen to you, but they might listen to your vet. My vet is pretty extraordinary, and he is right on the stand and he just tells the facts, right? We know that animals emotionally suffer. My good friend ———– has, like a whole PowerPoint on the animal suffering and mental suffering. We’re not there yet, it’s, it’s hard enough to get them to care about emaciated animal, I just looked at a case today. There were some animals that were okay, and I was like, we’re going to do the thing I think the best, so I charge about half. Especially, I don’t know if you’re in a rural county. In rural counties, there might be a sentiment. I actually gave advice to animal control officer this morning where the judge was just believing the animal abuser and he was lying, and so, in a very rural county, there could be some biases there against the animal control officer. And I will tell you that I’ve trained a lot of young lawyers, I mean, hundreds at this point. And I remember being a young woman in a very male dominated field, and I still have a lot of male judges. And so, you have to contend with what you think would be the best as far as sentience and suffering. I would try to go at it through your vet and getting your vet to kind of explain it to them, and maybe asking your vet to kind of tutor you on how to care about or how you can explain it. I would ask ——- to fight another day. If you get 33 indictments and all they did was like leave out a snake or something. That’s a win. And I think we have to really readjust how we think about animal cruelty prosecution. A ban is a win.


Audience Question: Regarding cute and cuddly, could you not get court or jury sympathy for fighting roosters? Look at the change in public opinion about pitties after the Michael Vick case. Separately, did applicable law require proof of sentence? 

Michelle Welch: So, I’ve got, I’ve got a tale of two cities, are you ready? Um, I had a judge. She didn’t care at all about my rooster fighting, but he did convict him of like two cruelties. Then I had a judge who a very rural jurisdiction, he had been at it three times, it involved his children, right? He come to the seizure hearing in a cockfighting hat. He drew some drug charges and so he got some —— lines. So, I argue to the judge, “This is not a drug case, he got lucky because he had meth residue. This is not a drug case. This is a cockfighting case. And by the way, judge the very first seizure where we received 200 roosters, he told the officer, ‘relax officer’, on search warrant, that ‘cockfighting was his God given right, and he would be at it in no time.’” And this is what I said, “Well, he was true to his word judge. Twice more, we found him setting up his cockfighting ring. He was out on release on your charges and he ——— cockfighting.  So, I ask for five years, and I’ve got five years. And I will say that. I think it depends on where you are. I think, in many ways, I researched the judge to see if they’ll be fair. I research, you know, and if I feel like it’s an uphill battle with the judge, then I’m asking for a jury. Right? So, I just got, you know, a conviction from a jury that I knew the judge wasn’t giving conviction. So, sometimes you ask for that jury, it’s a lot more work, but you want the conviction.


Audience Question: Does your statute contemplate remedies for if the store owner does not allow for inspection unto the legislation? They go on to explain, in our province the only remedy is to have the police service of jurisdiction charged them with obstruction of the criminal code of Canada, but it doesn’t allow us to get access to the store. 

Michelle Welch: Well, what I would do, I would do something different. I wouldn’t do obstruction; I would just go get a search warrant and then he can’t refuse your entry. Because the bottom line is we remember we had in this particular case, we had a complaint. We also sometimes will send someone to just go in the store and see what it looks like, right? And then you could build your probable cause and go get a search warrant. They really can’t refuse, because the statute is clear, that they have to let them inspect. They have to let the animal control officer inspect, or the state vet rep. Our state vet’s office doesn’t really do that very often that they have —–.


Audience Question: How might we train ACOs to recognize Pocket Pet negligence or abuse? Are there resources you can recommend? 

Michelle Welch: I will tell you that on this is the prosecutors, so they’re not really a rival of Justice Clearinghouse. But the Association of Prosecutors Prosecuting Attorneys has a webinar from a veterinarian who really explored, and it was basically birds, and just how much abuse and neglect of birds is happening because people get them, and they don’t really know what to do with them. And they’re not feeding in the right diet, So what I would do is get a veterinarian in the jurisdiction or, you know, Justice Clearinghouse has a lot of veterinarians on their roster and get them to do a training with you on pocket pets. So, in Virginia, we’re really lucky, I have a lot of different vets. And we also have our own forensic vets now. It’s so great, like, I have a treasure trove of riches. But you do too, you just haven’t figured them out. And so, what I would say is talking, talking to your state veterinary medical association. Seeing who is the, the leading pocket pet expert, or just talking to your regular companion animal vet, because they’re trained on all animals in vet school. So, they can do that. A lot of people like I have a great ag vet, I have a great equine vet, I got a great exotics vet. If it’s truly pocket pets, then they’re seeing them in their practices, in their small animal practices. I’d also talk to your vet schools and see if they have some that could come train.


Audience Question: Would you be able to provide us with that PowerPoint on animal physical and mental suffering? 

Michelle Welch: Well, it’s not mine, it’s ————- and so I can give you, if you e-mail me, I will give you her contact, and you can ask her.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of  Pocket Pets and Beyond: The Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores



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