Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores

Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-10-17
Unit 1Presentation Materials: Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores
Unit 2Transcript: Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores
Unit 3Workbook: Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores
Unit 4Recording: Pocket Pets and Beyond: Investigation and Prosecution of Pet Stores

The legal system faces challenges when it comes to animal cruelty cases due to a lack of familiarity with animal law statutes and investigative processes. Such is the case when the animals involved are beloved animal companions such as dogs and cats. The challenges compound even more when the animals involved are the more unusual ones. This webinar focuses on the complexities of animal cruelty prosecutions for pocket pets.

This session’s presenter is Michelle Welch, a Senior Assistant Attorney General and the Director of the Animal Law Unit in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. Michelle also serves as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia to aid in animal fighting and animal crime prosecutions.

Specifics of the presentation include:

  • Pocket pets: The specific species that fall under this umbrella term.
  • The differences in how different states regulate pet stores which highlight the importance of familiarizing with state and local laws.
  • The importance of not disregarding complaints from community members about pet stores as this can reveal much bigger issues.
  • A rundown of considerations to take into account in cruelty cases that concern pocket pets.
    • Documenting the conditions the animals are found in – the environment and their health – which can help with determining charges and telling a compelling story to the judge and jury.
    • Cooperating with your jurisdiction’s vet community to provide insights on the animals’ body condition, review the issues that the animal is suffering from, and assist with nursing them back to health.
    • Documenting the animals’ recovery process as well as their outcomes to provide comparison points to the “before” conditions.
    • Reviewing statements from all parties involved, noting the legal process can take some time which can make people forgetful, and including those uttered emotionally.
    • Preparing witnesses who may not have prior experience testifying before they go on the stand for both direct and cross-examination.
    • Preparing for things that the defense may view as grounds for impeachment.
    • Comprehensively collecting evidence, particularly necropsies and cellphones that provide so much information, and maintaining chain of custody of evidence.
    • Being wary when capturing video, particularly body cam footage.
    • When veterinarians play the role of enablers for pet stores, and dealing with this by seeking second opinion to verify results or getting a subpoena or search warrant for vet records.
    • Leveraging Puppy Lemon Laws to identify pet stores that sell sick animals.
    • Charging appropriately based on the scale and gravity of the case.
    • What to watch out for and ask when selecting the jurors during voir dire.
    • The value of the opening statement to tell a story for the judge and jury.
    • Ordering the witnesses appropriately in an order that makes the most sense and will be most effective for storytelling.
    • Ensuring that the vets understand pocket pets and other unique species and what’s wrong with them.
    • What a win looks like and utilizing appeals where possible.
  • Understanding the Puppy Mill to Pet Store Pipeline – what it looks like and the motive behind it.
  • The concept of wildlife trafficking, considerations when working with cases that fall under this, and examples of unique pet cases.

Questions from the webinar attendees are about:

  • Educating prosecutors about the sentience of animals.
  • Court or jury sympathy for fighting roosters and other species that do not fall under cute and cuddly.
  • Workaround for store owners that refuse store inspection.
  • Resources and training to recognize pocket pet abuse or neglect.


Click here to register and view other Animal Welfare webinars and recordings on the JCH website. 


Audience Comments

  • “Great presentation on what to look for and access when inside pet stores and private vendors for small animal/pet sales.” –Travis
  • “Commentator and speaker were excellent.” — Suzanne
  • “Very inspirational to see animals protected from abuse via the legal system.” — David
  • “Excellent information. Thank You.” — Robert
  • “This was an excellent illustration of the severity of the problem.” — Amy



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
7 months ago
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 Pet […]
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