Animal cruelty can lead to crimes on people, investigator says

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas. Publicado en News in English.

For the past six years, the sheriff's office has dedicated a team of investigators to check out thousands of animal-abuse reports that come in annually.

Animal cruelty can lead to crimes on people, investigator says

Judi Villa
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 8, 2007 12:00 AM

The horse on the corner is too skinny, the caller said.

Harvey Redman, an investigator with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, knew little else as he climbed into his pickup truck and headed west.

For the past six years, the sheriff's office has dedicated a team of investigators to check out thousands of animal-abuse reports that come in annually.

Officials say it's a way not only to educate the public about the proper care of animals but also to target abusers who could be working up to violence against humans.

"We're not going to tolerate people being cruel to animals," Redman said. "We've all swatted a dog for piddling on the carpet. We don't beat it till it can't walk. There's a difference."

Some experts claim animal abuse is the starting point of an escalation to child abuse, domestic violence or murder and serial killing.

"It is a known fact that people who abuse animals and escalate to killing animals are in the infancy stage of graduating to killing people," said Capt. Dave Trombi, who oversees Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Animal Crimes Unit. "If we can stop something from progressing to a point where it becomes crimes against people, then that's what we want to do."

Arpaio started the unit in 2000 after a series of cat mutilations in Ahwatukee. Today, seven investigators respond throughout the county to reports of everything from no food and water to animals being starved, beaten, tortured and killed.

Arrests have added up over the years. Some examples:

• In November, a Tonopah man was arrested and accused of animal neglect after officials said he failed to contact a veterinarian after his three horses became "really skinny."

• In September, an Arlington man was arrested, accused of five counts of animal cruelty after investigators said he left two pigs and three chickens without access to water. The man had previously been placed on probation for not properly feeding his dogs.

• And in 2005, a Mesa man was cited for animal cruelty after he used a bow and arrow to shoot a neighbor's cat that had wandered into his yard.

About 25 animal-cruelty cases are prosecuted annually in Maricopa County, said Deputy County Attorney Tony Church. The cases range from starving animals to such intentional cruelty as beatings and stabbings to bestiality.

One man pleaded guilty to putting his wife's puppy in a 200-degree oven, crippling it. He went to jail for six months.

Most of the people convicted wind up with three to six months in jail plus probation with a stipulation that they can't own, possess or control an animal. Recently, Church said, he has begun requiring defendants to attend a new animal-offender treatment program.

"The people who come through and do this sort of thing are usually associated with some other violent crime in the past or this is the starting point and it mushrooms from here," Church said.

"These people are violent," he said. "Hitting these kinds of cases head on not only reduces violence against animals but reduces violence against humans in the future."

And so investigators check out every abuse complaint that comes their way. A hotline fields more than 120 calls a month.

"If you like to bully and threaten, who's your easiest victim? Animals," Redman said. "Animals are easy, readily accessible, don't tell anybody, nobody comes to see them. They have no friends, no communication. You can beat on them until somebody turns you in. What happens then? The thrill isn't there. Then you need a little punch to the thrill, and you escalate to people.

"It's going to continue unless we cut it off."

Still, a lot of the complaints turn out to be educational, like the skinny horse Redman checks on, on a corner in Laveen.

She is 22 years old, with a bad hip.

"How are you?" Redman says softly to the Arabian. "Can I look at your mouth? Can I?"

He clicks his tongue to get the horse to walk. "Come on," he urges. "That a girl."

"Having somebody call is not necessarily a bad thing," said Terrie Curtis, who owns the horse. "It means somebody is looking, which is fine. On the other hand, it lets me ask questions. 'How do I do this?' . . . I will talk to any- body and say, 'How do I correct it?' "

Curtis' horse and a second one are fed twice a day. While Curtis' horse is about 100 pounds underweight, the other one is overweight.

Redman talks to Curtis about using feeders instead of putting alfalfa on the ground, where horses can ingest too much dirt. He suggests separating the two horses during feeding.

"They look OK," Redman said to Curtis. "Just fatten her up a bit."

When it's necessary, animals are seized and housed in a no-kill shelter in jail. In 2005, investigators seized 137 animals. Last year, more than 60 dogs, cats and horses were seized.

One dog was kicked so hard its hipbone was broken. Twenty-two pit bulls were starving.

Inmates care for them until the animals are either released to their owners or adopted.

And the abuse complaints don't stop:

Two dogs are chained in a pen. Their leashes are mangled, preventing them from getting food and water.

A neighbor is putting out poison to kill birds.

A skinny dog can barely walk.

A horse has an infected eye.

There's a mutilated cat with its head hanging from its body by a thread.

"You can never imagine what people can do to animals. The sky's the limit," Redman said. "The sheriff has taken a stand that we will not tolerate it. We will hook you up and take you to jail."

"When you have animal cruelty, you need to stop that immediately."