When the George County, Mississippi, sheriff’s office recently received a report of a property that could be housing a dogfighting operation, they knew exactly what to do. Deputy Lisa Finlay, who had just completed a course with the Humane Society of the United States’ Law Enforcement Training Center, went to the scene, where she found extremely scarred dogs on heavy chains. Deputy Finlay called Chief Matt Barnett of the Wiggins, Mississippi, police department, a trainer for the law enforcement training center, who arrived with animal control officer Melanie Rowe.
Together, the three worked through the night to document the scene and to secure resources for the dogs who appeared hungry and thirsty. Chief Barnett reflected upon the look of relief in the eyes of one of the pups as he offered her what was likely her first sip of fresh water in a long time.
Our men and women in blue are often the first to learn of crimes against animals, and for that reason we need to equip them with the tools to recognize and address the crime of animal cruelty when they see it. That’s why the Humane Society of the United States created the Law Enforcement Training Center, which provides free education and training throughout the country for police officers responsible for the investigation and documentation of animal crimes.
In 2017 alone, the center hosted more than 80 seminars, training nearly 4,000 officers across the United States. We are grateful for our training partnership with the National Sheriffs’ Association, which created a clearinghouse for information on animal cruelty, and the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA), for its focus on encouraging greater awareness and understanding of animal cruelty and its link to interpersonal violence on the part of law enforcement officers.
“Most of the time [these crimes] aren’t happening in a vacuum,” says Chelsea Rider, director of NLECAA. “Many cases of animal cruelty, including animal fighting, happen concurrently with things like domestic violence, child abuse, illegal gambling, and drugs or weapons violations. Our goal is to equip law enforcement with the information and resources they need to successfully handle animal cruelty in their communities.”
In the George County rescue, in addition to dogfighting paraphernalia, officers at the site, including the Southeast Mississippi Narcotics Task Force, seized large amounts of illegal drugs and firearms.
The rescue occurred on the heels of a tremendous legislative victory for Mississippi victims of dogfighting. Earlier this year, our Animal Cruelty campaign worked with rescues, shelters and law enforcement agencies in pursuit of an upgrade to the state’s dogfighting law (Sheriff Keith Harvard of George County offered his voice in support of this effort). In April, Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill that increased maximum penalties and made it a felony to manufacture, possess, buy or sell animal fighting paraphernalia.
The bill also included an important requirement that individuals charged with animal fighting pay the cost of caring for their dogs while they are held in criminal cases (a significant financial burden historically placed on enforcement agencies, nonprofit rescue groups and taxpayers).
Deputy Finlay credits the Law Enforcement Training Center for her understanding of what to look for when she arrived at that house – she had taken the class just last month and says the case was a textbook example of the lessons taught.
The animals rescued from the property now rest easy without threat of being forced to fight to the death, and the person who appears responsible for their suffering faces charges that reflect the severity of his crimes. This is exactly the kind of outcome that our law enforcement trainings seek to ensure.