What we believe: Law enforcement must take animal abuse seriously

BIRMINGHAM – A couple in Warrior were given jail time and fines for animal cruelty this week. They had abandoned 51 pets – dogs, cats and turtles – in a home they had lived in. Some of those animals had died before officials stepped in.

Kudos to City of Warrior Magistrate Anne Crane. She took the crimes seriously, even though the couple, Ricky and Elizabeth McGraw Thomason, were undercharged with misdemeanors.

The problem in Alabama isn’t that we don’t have good laws for animal abuse; it’s that we don’t have good enforcement of those laws. Too many times, police departments and sheriffs just don’t think following up and investigating animal abuse situations are worth their trouble.

They’re wrong. Animals, and specifically, companion animals like dogs and cats and horses, are sentient beings. They live, think, experience fear, are sad, happy, worry, and love like we do. A friend once told me that dogs live in our world, but we don’t live in the dog’s world.

"The simple answer is education," said Holly Baker, director of GBHS Animal Care and Control. "The complicated answer is that animal control and the advocates of animals in our area need to expose themselves to law enforcement on a regular basis to make this make sense to them."

We need to live in a dog’s world for awhile.

A chained dog is an abused dog. A house cat left to survive on his own in the wild is an abused cat. Dogs and cats abandoned in a filthy, empty house without food or water are abused animals.

When that happens, we need law enforcement to step up. Jefferson County is fortunate to have an animal abuse officer in the Sheriff’s Office. But many communities, especially the smaller communities, just don’t take animal abuse seriously.

"Sometimes it depends on the individual officers who respond," Baker said. "There are some officers who jump at a call for an animal, but there are others who respond, but don't understand. Animal abuse can be a sign of other things going on in the home that should be investigated, like domestic violence or child abuse."

While the Warrior police stepped up when GBHS Animal Care and Control intervened with the Thomasons' abuse, the police department there had received complaints for years about how the Thomasons treated their animals. One dog even starved to death chained in a yard of a house the Thomasons previously abandoned, a source told us.

Police departments and sheriff’s offices throughout the state must take animal abuse complaints seriously. And not simply for the animals, though they should be the top priority. But people who regularly abuse animals are often involved in other crimes: selling drugs and abusing drugs, child abuse, theft and other even more serious misdeeds.

A good law is no good if it isn’t enforced. Law enforcement agencies must take animal abuse complaints seriously.

No, we don’t live in a dog’s world. But dogs live in ours, so we’re responsible for making sure they’re treated humanely and with love and care.

Law enforcement must enforce the laws. What some in law enforcement don't understand is that the bad guys they're after are also the same bad guys who abuse animals. Get to them, and they'll get the bad guys who are doing lots of other bad stuff.

Joey Kennedy

Joey Kennedy is president and publisher of Animal Advocates of Alabama. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy worked for more than 33 years at The Birmingham News.

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