In 2016, a sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa placed a call to the Humane Society of Tulsa – he needed help with 28 neglected dogs who were emaciated and in need of rescue. In the past, the officer said, he would have likely walked away from the scene, not knowing what to do, but this time was different: he had recently undergone law enforcement training conducted by the Humane Society of the United States where he had learned how to tell when a dog was abused or starving. He also knew that the local shelter could be used as a resource in cases like this. There was a happy ending for this story, with all the dogs rescued from their terrible situation.
It is exactly this kind of outcome that our Humane State program seeks. The first such program began stateside in Oklahoma in 2016, and has so far trained 2,882 Oklahoma law enforcement officers and shelter and rescue workers, teaching them how to handle the animals they encounter in their day to day work, and to improve collaboration between shelters, rescues and law enforcement officers.
The Sooner State is one of five states in the country with the greatest numbers of puppy mills and it is also home to one of the largest equine populations in the United States. On any given day, law enforcement officers are called in to investigate incidents that involve equines or companion animals, and sometimes they are thrust into situations where they must make a critical decision involving an animal. When an officer is not trained to handle animals, the outcome for the animal can be fatal, as in a case last year where a police officer shot a family dog dead at a child’s birthday party.
In March, we staged a round of trainings on equine cruelty cases for 250 law enforcement officers and animal welfare professionals in Oklahoma. And last week we partnered with the ASPCA to help 300 Oklahoma shelter and rescue group workers improve their animal behavior and handling skills through advanced training. We have similar programs in Puerto Rico, Kansas and Ohio, and each program runs for three years during which we focus on three areas: training for law enforcement and animal welfare workers; capacity-building for rescue groups and shelters; and public outreach based on the specific needs of each community. Altogether our Humane State program has trained 10,083 law enforcement officers and shelter/rescue professionals in the United States, including Puerto Rico.
The WaterShed Animal Fund, a program of the Arnall Family Foundation, has made it possible for us to conduct our Oklahoma training programs with three years of funding for the effort. Our other partners in this program include the FBI, National Sheriff’s Association, Oklahoma Sheriffs Association, Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, the Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the Humane Society of Tulsa, Oklahoma Animal Alliance, Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue, Heart of Oklahoma, OK ACT, Wild Heart Ranch, Kirkpatrick Foundation, Wildcare Foundation, Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps, and Oklahoma Large Animal First Responders.
Participating officers now often call our experts for on-the-scene advice regarding cases, use the resources we have made available, and coordinate with local shelter/rescue organizations in Oklahoma on many aspects of their own animal welfare work. Along with our other work there, it’s an important part of making Oklahoma, and the rest of the nation, better for animals and for people.