Animal hoarding cases are tedious – just the sheer number of animals in such cases and the logistics involved can be challenging. Add the difficulty of as well as treading the fine line when it comes to charging and prosecuting. Michelle Welch is back on the Justice Clearinghouse to shed light into this somewhat daunting task.
Michelle is passionate about animal law and is Virginia’s key resource when it comes to animal abuse cases. She is the Director of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office’s Animal Law Unit and has been appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia to aid in animal fighting prosecutions.
Some of the specifics Michelle delved into on this webinar are:
- The DSM definition of hoarding that affects or impairs mental processes and is related to other mental health disorders.
- The type of case and charge Animal Control Officers, Investigators and Prosecutors may build on.
- Considerations when deciding what the charge will be based on the desired outcome.
- The type of people who end up hoarding animals, and things to look out for to identify a hoarding case.
- Keeping the goal to provide resources to hoarders which will encourage reporting from people and veterinarians.
- Evidence to collect and take note of onsite which can help build probable cause – photos of the animals and the surroundings, pieces of clothing, the individual’s character, and the living conditions.
- The importance of preparation and planning in hoarding cases.
- Understanding local legislation on neglect and cruelty to animals to help with determining applicable charges.
- Understanding what makes a hoarder and the factors present in hoarding cases.
- How animals must be treated and protected.
- A look into horse hoarding and the crafty, litigious nature of horse hoarders.
- The importance of recognizing the motivation behind hoarding in deciding what to charge, and the common defenses used by hoarders.
- Navigating animal hoarding investigation and prosecution that requires:
- Preparedness, firmness on the issues and organization.
- Understanding how the judge thinks and what’s important to the judge.
- Having a veterinarian (equine/state/forensic) to explain and provide clarity on the conditions of the animals.
- Thoroughness with evidence collection, case building and other seemingly minute details that can steer the trajectory of the case.
- Defining important concepts as adequate water, food, space and shelter.
- Creativity when it comes to considering charging outside of animal law including environmental law and involving social services.
- Compounding the charge if necessary based on the number of animals to hold hoarders accountable.
- Scrutinizing the legitimacy of rescues and identifying hoarders.
- Securing Temporary Detention Orders where applicable.
- Several examples were included to demonstrate the different considerations in animal hoarding cases.
- Questions from the audience revolved around:
- Uncovering details behind animal deaths due to spaying and neutering.
- Doing constant checks on a hoarder without a formal charge.
- Getting a more sensitive ammonia reading.
- Distinguishing puppy mills from hoarders and why in the end, the difference doesn’t matter.
- Enforcing lifetime ban from animals and its legality.
- Seizing even healthy animals from a hoarder.
- How to effectively maneuver around the common defense that hoarding is just a consequence of love for animals.
- “I was NOT aware of the motivation behind the taking in of these animals for-profit and the craftiness and manipulative behavior of these accomplished horse “traders.” thank you for the update.” — Pamela
- “Great presentation a lot of good information, really enjoyed it.” — Carrie
- “How to be prepared for both overly sympathetic and dismissive judges and institutions.” — Kathe
- “How to prosecute animal cruelty cases in a manner that it sticks. Researching the Judge on their views and prior rulings on animal cruelty cases. Michelle is amazing!!!!” — Marchelle
- “Very informative. Provides good information on how to define and prosecute.” — Phyllis