Webinar presenters David Rosengard and Jessica Chapman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Towards a More Humane Society: A One-Health Approach to Addressing Criminal Cruelty for Everyone Involved. Here are just a few of their responses
Audience Question: How can diversion effectiveness actually be measured when there’s little to no information about the recidivism rate of animal abusers except for some literature about hoarding?
David Rosengard: So that’s part of the backend of this program, is doing follow-up research in jurisdictions that are using this to track recidivism rates for offenders. It’s also part of the larger data project that Jessica’s coming up to figure out what is actually happening in the United States with cruelty sentences. Part of that is figuring out how much recidivism there is for different kinds of crime. So, we are looking at that overall, but also specific to the program. But you’re absolutely correct. It is a challenge. Right now, if you were to ask people, what recidivism looks like outside hoarding, people don’t have a lot of good data-driven answers.
Audience Question: Will this certificate course ever be approved for veterinary CE credits via —-?
David Rosengard: We will look into that, so we know that it should be approved for most attorney continuing education credits. And most continuing ed credits are within the social work psychology sphere because those are the two professions that have been working academically in the certification field to put it together. But we do have to look into how other fields could utilize this as well, and veterinarians are on the list.
Audience Question: Would the program have relevance for folks outside of the United States? For example, Canada, or as Julie said, the global south.
David Rosengard: It would. So, there is a portion of this course that Jessica can go into more detail on this. We’re going to talk about the laws of the United States because we want every attendee to come out with that shared baseline of knowledge. But we’re also going to spend a lot of time talking in the course about these underlying risk factors, and those don’t depend on the laws where you are. They depend on mental health issues, social issues, economic issues, and a whole range of factors that may underly why people engage in cruelty down to something as basic as the way someone was raised, the environment they grew up in. And that’s applicable broadly as it responses to those, are the social health response. The ability of, for example, a short-term carceral state to prevent domestic violence abusers from killing animals and their partners allowing the partner and animal to get out safety. That applies whether you’re in the United States or not, and there’s good data, all of, that kind of thing, whether you that you are in the United States, or not, I don’t know if you wanted to add anything there, Jessica.
Jessica Chapman: Yes. So, we do, as David said, focus on United States law. But we also focus on indigenous law, as well as territorial law, which is different than US State and Federal laws. To that point, even though animal cruelty discussed in this program exists within the framework of US-specific laws, animal cruelty is still animal cruelty throughout the world, the way that trauma is still trauma throughout the world. And so, despite different legal applications, the program provides a one health education about how animal cruelty exists and permeates throughout somebody’s life or experience. And then, the program’s ability to provide ways to address animal cruelty through legal systems using customized risk assessments and through appropriate trauma-informed rehabilitation is a way that I think anybody would benefit from, especially because trauma-informed therapies are used throughout the world with a lot of success. And so, by being able to manage those frameworks and understanding, students can do independent work on how to apply such skills to their specific legal systems. I think this type of application will happen in a lot of different countries for people who are interested.
Audience Question: I suspect the course that you’re talking about comes with a cost. Do you know if the University of Denver might offer a reduced cost for the course, especially for citizens in developing countries?
David Rosengard: Yes. So, we have a variety of scholarship methodologies that we’re working on. Certainly, ALDF will be offering some —– offer some themselves, but we’re getting the details of those together. Short version, yes. There will be a variety of ways to defray offset or eliminate cost because we want to get this out to people. That’s the point of doing it.
Jessica Chapman: And to that point also, I think the cost exists to cover basic program expenses. It’s not-for-profit. So, hopefully, this program is much less expensive than what people would imagine it to be if it was developed for profit.
Audience Question: Not too long ago my home state of Pennsylvania revised its laws to expand the types of contact against animals which are criminalized and increase the penalties. Do you see this happening in other states?
David Rosengard: Yes. So, the Animal Legal Defense Fund every year does a 50 state plus each territory, and DC Survey of Animal Cruelty Laws. We rank those and compile them with the goal of being able to say, on a year-to-year basis. What state has the best written law shielding animals from cruelties in human hands? And so, that lets us see certain national trends, we just released our most recent update on that about three weeks ago. We do see states expanding the range of maltreatment that is unlawful. The range of conduct that can be considered cruel. We see states increasing the designation of certain crimes as felonies and that certainly can expand this —— profile. So yes. The answer to your question is yes. It does depend, of course, on where the state is, which state you’re talking about. Some are much more slow to change than others.
Audience Question: I’m working on starting a Courtroom Animal Advocate Program in my own state working with state bar’s animal law committee. Can you talk about how many states have these? And as an aside, as a comment that I wanted to add, we actually, David presented on this last year, courtroom animal advocate programs, approaching animals as quasi party crime victims. We do have that available on our JCH library if you want to go into a deep dive. But David, Jessica, I would love your thoughts on how many states have those CAAP programs?
David Rosengard: Yeah, absolutely. So, the two states that have those programs running right now are Connecticut, which was the first one, and Maine, there are some smaller scale county level programs. Most notably Onondaga County in New York has a CAAP-like program and I would be happy to talk more specifically, just reach out to this e-mail address and we’ll get into it. So, it’s getting those programs set up is a personal passion of mine. And certainly, one of the attendance populations we hope for, but at the audience groups, were hoping for it with this program, is Animal Victim Advocates.
Audience Question: I find a lot of people in the animal services field concentrate on the violations only rather than resolution at the bigger picture along with the violation. Do you have any suggestions on how to change that culture?
Jessica Chapman: Yes, I think it’s important for people to start understanding that animal cruelty isn’t a siloed experience, that recognizing animal cruelty doesn’t happen because people wake up one day saying, “I think it would be a really great idea to hurt an animal.” There are a lot of issues that go into that. And we weren’t able to talk about those in this presentation, but perhaps another one. Oftentimes, cruelty occurs because of past trauma, or experience to abuse, either viewed or directly received as a child or from other family members as adults (to identify a couple of examples). I think mental health and social work professionals are already on board with us, most of them. But educating the legal system and seeing that animal cruelty is part of a mental health experience in which a lot is happening in a person’s mind to help them cope with the world they are living in, even though their world is likely very skewed by trauma’s lasting effects. And in order to alleviate such experiences, we have to alleviate these underlying causes that influence individuals to commit animal cruelty. Educating prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys about animal cruelty, the detrimental effects of traditional carceral sentences, and the benefits of trauma-informed approaches and rehabilitation would actually prevent future cruelty from occurring and would help with that shift. So, creating legislation that acknowledges these points, and looking at sentences that acknowledge the big picture of animal cruelty and that don’t exacerbate issues that promote the tendencies to commit animal cruelty through incarceration or other retributive models, are some of the missions of the criminal justice program at ALDF. And, the movement toward understanding these perspectives is growing. The movement may be slow at first, but I think the success of that movement is going to start seeing a wave of change. And, an approach to support this change is through educating people that you speak to about animal cruelty or the judges that you work with. And engaging in that conversation, and showing how this process hasn’t been working through the retributive model. We need to look at why animal cruelty is occurring, and not put a band-aid on it, but resolve it at the root cause. Then our work will really prevent future injury.
David Rosengard: I think the flip portion to that is making sure that ACO’s and others, whose job it is to do these interventions have the resources and the networks they need. If you are an ACO in a county that only empowers you to do citations for animal offenses and doesn’t provide you with the professional sport and resources and network to, for example, get someone involved if you run into a case where yes, animals are being neglected, but also that human owner of the animal is failing to care for themselves. It’s very difficult to be an ACO in that position because you realize something’s wrong. You want to do something, but you may not have the support to do it. And so, part of what we are advocating for here in this program, but elsewhere is building those professional connections and providing those resources. So, it’s not simply a matter of saying, I’ve identified the statutory violation. It’s a matter of saying, I’ve identified the statutory violation, but what we should do about it is this thing that gets at the underlying issue.