For our fiscal year which just ended June 30, the SPCA’s Humane Investigations team responded to 981 reports related to animal cruelty or abuse. I have mixed feelings seeing that number, and imagine you might as well. Is that number heartwrenching or comforting?
Here’s my take. On one level, seeing 981 truly sickens me. We live in a county famous for being pet friendly and we live in a time where people care far more about their pets than they ever have. Decades ago, dogs lived in the yard, maybe with access to a garage if they were lucky. Today, many dogs share homes with their people, even beds in some cases, and have their own social media followers! Despite all this, we receive, on average, nearly 20 reports of animal cruelty, abuse or mistreatment every week.
Taking a different look, the number 981 makes me feel comforted and proud. That number means nearly 1,000 people cared enough to contact us this past year. Every community depends on its people to be a voice for animals who cannot speak for themselves. Our community’s animals have many diligent watch dogs.
I’m also comforted knowing we have the expertise and ability on staff to respond to these calls, emails, and the horrific photos sent to us. We have staff who can stomach the hard work. Our vet who performed a post-mortem exam on a dog purposely set on fire who suffered horribly with burns covering 90% of his body before being euthanized in a vet’s office, said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done professionally.
Our four highly skilled and trained investigators know just how to approach animal owners, when to go in heavy-handed and when a softer, educational approach is in the animals’ best interests. Once animals are in our care, our staff will show them kindness (often for the first times in their lives) and patience and will work hard to provide much-deserved second chances.
I’m comforted knowing our District Attorney’s Office also cares deeply about animal abuse cases. As you might already understand, the SPCA’s role is to provide immediate, often life-saving care for the animals, while also collecting evidence which we turn over to the District Attorney’s Office. The DA then decides whether or not to pursue cases criminally, and decides what kind of penalty to assign abusers.
I’m comforted knowing we’re able to provide new lives for animals. The horse who arrives all skin and bones receives expert care and doesn’t even resemble the horse we rescued. Then, weeks — sometimes months or even more than a year later — we all celebrate when the adopter sends photos of the animals in their new loving homes.
We do this for dogs and cats, horses, barn animals, rabbits and exotic birds. We’ve handled cases where people have purposely harmed wildlife.
Lastly, I’m comforted — grateful, actually — that local residents support our work and make it possible. You may not know this, but when abusers are sentenced, they are often ordered to pay restitution to The SPCA for the costs we incur. One surgery for one animal can easily run $4,000. This past year, we took 290 animals into our care from the 981 contacts received. Restitution amounts ranged from $1,000 to well over $130,000 in one case. We have close to 30 pending cases where abusers were ordered to pay restitution and I can all but guarantee we will not receive a penny from most. It’s the legal system with which we have to work.
We do this work at our expense, we do it well, we do it knowing we will encounter situations that don’t all have happy endings and with the understanding that no other organization or agency in our community employs trained staff dedicated to this work.
I expect many of you to be sickened by the number 981 and by the individual stories you come across in the media about animals being mistreated. Please also be comforted knowing The SPCA is here, and that you make this life saving work possible.