Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations

Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-01-19
Unit 1Presentation Materials: Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations
Unit 2Transcript: Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations
Unit 3Workbook: Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations
Unit 4Recording: Bodies of Evidence: Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Investigations

A crime scene is defined as the place where an offense has been committed and forensic evidence may be gathered. With this in mind, the bodies of animals serve as the crime scene where evidence can be gathered to provide details surrounding an animal-related crime. This session walks through the nitty gritty of processing the crime scene to reveal what really transpired and bring justice to the victims of the crime.

Leading the webinar are Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Kathleen Wood and Emily Lewis. Kathleen is a staff attorney with the ALDF who assists agencies enforce and strengthen animal protection laws and oversees the Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report. Meanwhile, Emily is the Managing Attorney for the ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program who supervises and facilitates assistance in active criminal cases as well as trains front-line responders on essential tasks involved in these.

Contents of the presentation include:

  • The animal’s role in animal abuse cases as both the evidence and the victim.
  • The value in observing traditional evidentiary protocols when processing animals as evidence of crimes.
  • Guidelines on animal law-related search and seizures to take into account in terms of the fourth amendment and the search warrant requirement.
  • What qualifies as exigent circumstances which provide exceptions for the need for a warrant.
  • A glimpse into which states recognize exigency exceptions for animals through statute or case law.
  • Unpacking privacy interests that may arise out of searches, particularly requirements for a warrant in instances of bodies found in the trash or a dumpster.
  • The private search doctrine and how it affects the admissibility of evidence obtained from a search and the specific exceptions to this.
  • Jurisdiction-based guidelines and legalities surrounding veterinarians’ duty to report suspected cruelty and civil immunity for reporting.
  • What can be used to pre-emptively address privacy interests and admissibility of evidence issues that may arise in such situations.
  • A rundown of the procedures to thoroughly and correctly process and document the crime scene, search and collect evidence, verify packaging of evidence and clear the scene, as well as maintain chain of custody.
  • The challenges that come with preserving sentient evidence and the need to ensure adequate vet care and lifesaving care when necessary.
  • The benefits of utilizing protective custody foster care and expediting release for the animal as well as the agencies that are required to provide interim care to them following a seizure.
  • A list of all the services and assistance that the ALDF can provide to animal services and law enforcement agencies for free.
  • Numerous case studies were presented demonstrating:
    • The value in preserving animals’ bodies and treating these as evidence in any suspected cruelty or neglect incident.
    • Conditions recognized as exigency exceptions permitting warrantless searches for suspected cruelty situations.
    • The privacy expectation of a citizen who tried to mask evidence of animal cruelty by requesting the veterinarian to have his dead pet be put to group cremation.
    • Search issues that arose from diagnostic procedures performed, particularly the blood drawn, by a veterinarian on an emaciated dog.
    • How a comprehensive forensic necropsy was able to debunk the narrative provided to mask animal cruelty and reveal the real reason for a cat’s death.

Questions raised by the audience are about:

  • The result of the case studies.
  • States that require the abuser to provide restitution for the cost of care of seized animals.
  • Sample forms and templates for the processes mentioned.
  • Coordination between law enforcement and the veterinarian on what is needed and helpful for the case.
  • Veterinarians’ knowledge and skills to do necropsies.
  • How law enforcement can best utilize the body conditioning score as a guideline in their reports or testimonies.
  • What is required to qualify as a secure facility for seized animals.



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Resources & Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “Information on when a warrant is needed, and also the info about the “private search doctrine” — Patrick
  • “The case law was very interesting.” — Ashley
  • “I think this was a great overview to get us thinking/talking within our agency about procedures! — Allison
  • This was a great training opportunity and I like the way you presented it.” — Jaime
  • “Great job Emily and Kathleen!” — Kayte
  • “I saved the foster agreement in regards to a cruelty investigation, as I do not have one. Great info! Solid info in just an hour.”  — MARISSA
  • “I do not have a whole lot of experience with animal investigations and this opened my mind to thinking about how I would tackle one. (The body can not go, where the mind has never been). Sad topic, but enjoyed the information!” — Paul


Founded in 1979, the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission is to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. The Animal Legal Defense Fund accomplishes this mission by filing high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm, providing free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are held accountable for their crimes, supporting tough animal protection legislation and fighting legislation harmful to animals, and providing resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law.





This webinar has been certified by the National Animal Care & Control Association and is approved for 1 Continuing Education Unit. Please refer to your NACA membership portal for current CEU submission process. Current NACA Members who attend the live presentation or watch the recording will be able to download a jointly issued attendance certificate that includes the National Animal Care & Control Association logo. Visit the NACA training page for a complete list of future trainings.





This webinar has been pre-approved by the Maine Animal Welfare Program for 1 Continuing Education Unit for the State of Maine’s ACO annual training. You can find more information about Certification, required annual training or submitting materials for credit at Maine’s Animal Control Officer Resource Page.





Additional Resources
1 year ago
After the Webinar: Bodies of Evidence – Issues Arising from Search and Seizure of Animal Bodies in Cruelty Ivestigations. Q&A with the Presenters
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