By ALICIA LEONARD
Animal abuse is a crime and local organizations and citizens are working together to help report it and stop it from happening in Walton County.
On April 8, 2009 Alaqua Animal Refuge (AAR) representatives, Laurie Hood, Bill Bard and Victoria Bernard met with Crime Stoppers of Walton County, as well as Lois Marlow from Walton County Animal Control, to discuss ways to stop animal abuse.
“Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the injuries that occurred to the dog “Crash” in Freeport or the arrest of person(s) responsible for animal cruelty,” said Ana LaCour, Crime Stoppers coordinator for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) and crime prevention specialist.
“Crash” was brought to AAR after being drug by an automobile and had extensive injuries to his legs and paws. Animals such as “Crash” and “Grace” that have been featured in the Herald have helped raised community awareness and many are asking how they can help.
LaCour provided the statutes for what constitutes abuse, “Florida State Statute 828.12 defines animal cruelty as a person who unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal, or causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner” she said. “Florida State Statute 828.13 defines confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or exercise; or the abandonment or animals as a misdemeanor of the first degree.”
Hood told the crowd, “I think it’s wonderful that we have all come together about the cause of animal abuse and to try and make a difference here.” Hood attributes many of the success stories to the close working relationship built between AAR and animal control. “Now it seems we are able to take this one step further by including Crime Stoppers. They have graciously offered to include us and start offering rewards for reports of animal abuse reported in our area. We are very excited by this coming together and supporting this cause.” said Hood.
Hood said that one of the most striking elements of animal abuse is how closely it correlates with domestic abuse. She said she would like more opportunities to educate citizens and young people about how they can help stop it.
Bard serves on the animal control advisory committee, as well as being hands-on at AAR, “We need some how to get this out to the public that this is not acceptable.”
LaCour covered the process of Crime Stoppers, “We have a toll-free number or 800 number, a person calls in and it goes to the computer. Then I print it and send it to the appropriate agency or officer. I then wait for notification of an arrest. Once that happens, I bring forth that information during our monthly meeting and the board members vote on the amount of the reward, which is based on the crime or severity of the crime. The tipster is never reveled, not even to me. They are only identified by a number. Once the reward is decided upon, we notify the local bank and the tipster is given another number to call to receive the information on how to receive their reward and the reward is given in cash.”
The group discussed outlets to get educational information to younger citizens. Bard said he would like to see a statute added to their brochures on abandonment. “Folks are leaving animals in homes that are being foreclosed or at the vets office. It’s illegal to abandon your animal,” he said.
Marlow said it is hard to get enough evidence to prosecute animal abuse and the more information the better. LaCour said that all of the information about the person calling in a tip is coded and Marlow responded, “That’s fine, we don’t need to know who they are. We just need them to give us as much detailed information as possible, so we can investigate.”
Marlow also added that the public can always call Animal Control if they are having problems taking care of a family pet, rather than someone abandoning it. “We have the ability to possibly place an animal in a no-kill shelter, if space is available. If the animal is left behind and becomes unsociable, it will be that much harder to place it or adopt it out. We are willing to help pet owners anyway we can.”
Hood stated that she believed that the meeting was productive, “Education and information seems to be the groundwork we have started here today. I propose our organization (AAR) work up a brochure that other organizations can pass out and distribute at as many events as possible to bring awareness to the issue. By helping each other, I really feel like we can make a big difference.”
To report any crime, including abuse or neglect of an animal call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-718-TIPS (8477) or Walton County Animal Control at 892-8682. Crime Stoppers will never know the caller’s name and they will never have to appear in court. One must only remember the code number to collect the reward.
Contact Alicia Leonard online at firstname.lastname@example.org.