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Posted on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

A day in the life: Animal cruelty investigators work a rough beat

By Amy Biolchini

They signed up for the job because they wanted to help animals.

But in their line of work, they chase just as many criminals as critters.

They’re Washtenaw County’s animal cruelty investigators.


Animal cruelty investigator Matt Schaecher carries a baby bird away from a bank parking lot to a field where it can learn to fly.

Amy Biolchini |

“You can go from picking up that baby bird and bringing it back to the mom and going to someone’s house where they’re being arrested and they’re cussing you out,” said Matt Schaecher, the county’s director of animal cruelty investigation and emergency rescue.

Mixed in with the pictures of puppies and kittens that are tacked to the walls of the investigators’ office at the Humane Society of Huron Valley are large white boards with offenders, the investigators’ prosecution success record (53-1, as of last week) and mug shots of “frequent fliers.”

The team recently marked its 50th animal abuse guilty verdict, and has the highest prosecution success rate for animal cruelty out of any county in Michigan.

Most of the time, the jobs of the five investigators involve educating people, because people have different ideas about what constitutes cruelty, Schaecher said. Leaving a dog in a crate at home versus taking the dog with you to the store and leaving it in your car on a hot day is a common point of contention.

“There’s a wide range of things that we do. You get your day set up, and then something happens,” Schaecher said.

Some days, the investigators have to go to court to help prosecute the offenders they’ve worked hard to nail, leaving one person behind at the office.

Their 24-hour tip line seems to ring constantly.

The days are long, grueling and unpredictable. The stories are sometimes unbelievable.

A female deer, fatally injured after colliding with a train recently, died on the tracks. The two fawns she was carrying managed to survive by somehow escaping their mother’s body.

The team rescued the fawns and brought them back to the animal shelter. The fawns were so small that cruelty investigator Michele Baxter was able to hold both of them in her lap in a large towel.

The investigators’ stories don’t always end with a rescue.

Schaecher mentioned a call he responded to in which a litter of kittens had climbed into an air conditioning unit outside of an apartment complex while the unit was off.

And then the unit kicked on.

A day in the life

June 20, 9:30 a.m. Schaecher and Baxter investigate a report that three cats are losing weight and aren’t being cared for at an Ypsilanti apartment. The cats are actually well-fed and cared for. Baxter informs the owners of the Humane Society’s “Bountiful Bowls” program, in case the couple ever has trouble affording their cats’ food.

9:45 a.m. Someone has complained about a dog being left in a garage and barking all day. When the investigators arrive, the dog appears to be in good health and is not suffering. Schaecher advises the owner that it’s best to keep the dog inside - especially when temperatures escalate - and has the people take the dog into their house.


Two of the three dogs being kept in a van by an employee at the Materials Recovery Facility can be seen through the van’s windows.

Amy Biolchini |

10 a.m. An employee at the Ann Arbor Materials Recovery Facility on Platt Road reportedly has been keeping his three dogs in his van while he is at work. The dogs are in fact in the van, but they aren’t panting or distressed. The dogs’ owner keeps the windows open and shades down in the vehicle, and says he lets the dogs out on his breaks. The investigators tell him that he needs to leave the dogs at home, and make a note to come back the next day to see if he has heeded their advice.

10:20 a.m. The investigators follow up on a man on probation to make sure he isn’t violating the terms, which stipulate that he is to have no contact with animals whatsoever. The team has received a tip that the man has three new purebred dogs and wants to breed them. A visit to the address the man has listed with the court reveals he’s staying with his mother, who does in fact have a dog. Technically, the man is violating his probation, but Schaecher doesn’t want to take the dog away from the woman. The team will be back.

11 a.m. Schaecher remembered seeing a Siberian Husky being kept in a closet at an Ypsilanti apartment complex while he was out on the call where the kittens had climbed into the air conditioner unit. A knock at the door of the apartment yields no results; there’s no sign of the dog.

11:15 a.m. The team makes a return visit to a house in the West Willow neighborhood on the eastern side of Ypsilanti Township. The house has been raided twice for drugs. During one of the raids, four dogs were confiscated. There’s a report of another dog at the property. Though the house is condemned, there’s fresh trash outside. But there is no answer to the team’s knock on the door. A quick conference with the Sheriff’s Department reveals someone is still living inside. The team will have to come back later.

11:30 a.m. Schaecher spots a stray dog while patrolling the West Willow neighborhood. During her attempt to catch the dog, Baxter finds its owner.

11:36 a.m. Baxter and Schaecher stop by the side-by-side residences of some prior offenders to make sure there are no ongoing problems. No one is home.

11:50 a.m. The team stakes out the West Willow residence of an offender who hasn’t been showing up for his court dates on animal cruelty-related offenses. The court previously ordered two of his three dogs be taken away. There are four warrants out for his arrest. It looks like he’s home.


A baby bird sits in the grass median of an Ypsilanti bank parking lot. The bank's employees tried to rescue the bird because they thought its wing was broken, but the fledgling was just learning to fly.

Amy Biolchini |

12:05 p.m. A baby bird has been captured by employees at an Ypsilanti bank. Someone found it on the ground and thought it had a broken wing. The team suspects it’s a fledgling and is just learning to fly, which is the case. Schaecher and Baxter take the bird to a safe area and make sure the mother knows where the baby is. The bank employees were concerned that since they picked up the bird, its mother would no longer want it. Schaecher tells them that’s a myth.

12:30 p.m. Cruelty investigator Elise Ramsey meets the team at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, where a deputy suits up to assist the team in arresting the offender who is being staked out in West Willow.

1 p.m. Everyone is at the offender’s home … but he’s not. Time to wait.


A deputy from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department arrests an Ypsilanti man on four warrants stemming from animal cruelty charges, while animal cruelty investigators Matt Schaecher, Michele Baxter and Elise Ramsey watch.

Amy Biolchini |

1:30 p.m. The offender is arrested after he arrives home on his bike. He gives the team an earful as he is escorted to the deputy’s vehicle.

1:45 p.m. Lunch. The team members use the break to hash out their court schedules and upcoming events.

2:30 p.m. In Salem Township, Schaecher and Baxter investigate a report that someone is selling Boston Terrier puppies from a yard inside a trailer park. Though the puppies aren’t home, their mom is. That dog and another one at the location appear to be healthy, happy and well-cared for, so the team leaves.

2:41 p.m. The team arrives at the now-infamous Salem Township horse farm that was raided in December. Eighteen horses were seized. Though people are still calling to complain about the farm, the team says the horses look like they’re doing better and there's no cause for alarm.


Matt Schaecher, Washtenaw County’s director of animal cruelty investigation and emergency rescue, checks on horses at a Salem Township boarding facility where his team seized 18 horses in December.

Amy Biolchini |

3 p.m. Back to the office. Schaecher and Baxter have to fill out reports and update their database.

Armed animal lovers

The investigators are faced with a variety of reactions from people when they’re out doing their jobs.

For some calls, the investigators have to request assistance from law enforcement - and since they don’t carry guns themselves, confrontations can be precarious.

Schaecher says he hopes that’s all about to change. He has been petitioning the Humane Society board to allow investigators to be licensed to carry firearms. The investigators have all received the necessary training, but the board has yet to approve the measure.

The guns would be more for personal protection than intimidation, Baxter said.

You might think the investigators have seen it all, but there are still times when acts of animal cruelty catch them off guard.

“I don’t know if I would call it surprise, as much as ’You have got to be kidding me,’” Baxter said.

All of the cruelty investigators are animal lovers themselves.They all have pets at home and all still fight the urge to take home rescued animals.

“You bond with an animal because you just went through this rescue event,” Baxter said, explaining that after the initial adrenaline wears off, the decision to add another animal to your life may not seem so great.

Schaecher said he rescued a dog that had been set on fire in Detroit and really wanted to adopt it, but something inside held him back.

“It’s a weird field to be in,” Schaecher said. “You’re in it because you’re extremely passionate about animals … but you quickly see that not every rescue ends well.…

“You got in the position because you wanted to help, but it’s not exactly what you had in mind.”

“You have to grow that thick skin,” Baxter said.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 3:22 a.m.

I used to be a fan of HSHV until I met a kind person who was a VICTIM of them, merely because he had tried to help a litter of pups and got in over his head. He was not a hoarder or anything like that, just tried to help and failed, and was charged with a crime for it. I used to contribute to HSHV, but not anymore.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 10:11 p.m.

I have heard of things go awry like this. Sorry to hear this happened again.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

A huge thank you to the animal cruelty investigation team. I love animals and abuse stories make me sick; you people do what I couldn't and with little thanks. We have a wonderful Humane Society and investigators who do a fantastic job with passion!


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

The ASPCA uses volunteers for their rescues. Does the HS in Washtenaw County do the same? Or not? This is something I would not mind getting involved in but do not want to move to NYC . Just curious. Glad to see and hear things are getting done. Although the response getting back to me on calls of found dogs is rather lacking. I never hear back until late afternoon of the day after. This includes rescues of birds. I guess it goes without saying. Need help?


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

Way to go, Officers! HSHV's many programs help keep animals AND people safe in our community. We are truly fortunate that Washtenaw County values and supports our humane society as it does.

Robert Granville

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

I really enjoyed this peek into their jobs until the firearm part. Police and animal cruelty investigators have distinct roles. Let them stay that way. Besides, police are trained to draw their weapons in situations that animal cruelty officers don't face on a regular basis... and when they are in those situations police accompany them. I do not want to see an new gun-toting police force roaming the streets. Let's focus on getting our actual police patrol numbers up.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 11:40 p.m.

and Dog Guy, I know what you mean in general terms, but I too am a 'bully breed' owner, and neither I nor my dog [whom I rescued, love dearly, and don't abuse] would hurt you. But I understand that if they're investigating someone for abusing such a dog that the odds are it will be a dangerous situation. They need to carry.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 11:36 p.m.

Ah yes, the big bad gun fear. Increasing police patrol numbers does not help these investigators protect themselves. They have had the training, they just need the board's approval to carry on the job. They have proven themselves to be cautious and self-controlled in precarious situations. No reason they shouldn't also be able to protect themselves while on the job.

Dog Guy

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

I would carry a backup gun as well before annoying a pit bull owner (and not out of any concern about dogs).


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

I think I would love to be an animal cruelty investigator except I don't think I'd be able to hold back on someone if I found them mistreating an animal. Or grow a thick skin. You guys do such a great job! Thank you for helping those who can't help themselves.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Great job HSHV! I've recently moved from Washtenaw county to Montcalm county and it's been a bit of a culture shock all around! Moving from an area with such a great rescue organization to an area that only a few years ago was euthanizing unwanted animals in gas barrels and selling the others to R&R Research in Howard City makes me appreciate what you do even more than I already did.

Madeleine Borthwick

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

God Bless These People. someone has to speak up for our so-called "lesser creatures"(?). sign me, an unapologetic animal lover!!!!

Nancy Corfman

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

About the horses...again...Did Mr. Schaecher even bother to get out of the car to see if the horses had water, their hooves properly trimmed, shelter from the hot sun and any hay or grain to eat? It looks by this picture the horses have only resource of nutrition and its DIRT!

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Nancy, the cruelty investigators did get out of the vehicle to look more closely at the condition of the horses. There was hay on the ground and water in the trough, and I believe there was a small run-in shed in the pasture. I included the image to show how the team follows cases even after enforcement action.

Nancy Corfman

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

The horses at the Salem Township stable location SHOULD be looking good! After nearly 6 months at Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary in Ann Arbor, where they were fed properly, grained properly, vetted properly, hooves trimmed properly, etc., and then ordered BACK to the stable by a judge in Ann Arbor...shame on the judge! These people who own these horses should never have been allowed to have them back!


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:16 a.m.

Actually if you knew the judges order you would know that they were ordered to NOT return BACK to the stable. They had to go to non self service stables approved by the officers and they are check on regularly. I've spoken with the officers many times about it and they are happy to answer questions. Everyone is freaking out over these horses but don't give the hvhs officers a chance to explain. THANK YOU to judges in washtenaw co who actually take cruelty seriously and punish offenders.

Superior Twp voter

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Interesting article, thanks. And a BIG THANKS to these people and for everything they do.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

During this heat wave I cant help but think of all the outside dogs that don't have adequate shade and water supply. I wonder if they get a lot of calls for this problem.

Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : noon

This story must have been written last summer. Heat wave?


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

Thank you for getting the word out about the good work the cruelty team at HVHS does. I volunteer with Friends of Wildlife and would like to add that we appreciate how often they go above and beyond to help animals in distress. They are a valuable resource to our community.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:18 a.m.

Thank you for volunteering your time to help the animals too!! I've used your organization and help 4 wildlife when I have had questions and sick injured wildlife. You are great!

Susan Karp

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

Thank goodness that HSHV can pay for the Cruelty and Rescue team from generous donor support. Most communities rely on police or county animal control officers who are not trained, or as compassionate and motivated as the HSHV team. Our community is safer and healthier because of the Humane Society of Huron Valley. Thank you, HSHV!


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Great article and a big thanks to the investigators for the hard work they do.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

Some of these cases are worthy, some are not. Nothing torques me off more than someone owning an animal and than abusing it. However, helping a bird who can't fly? Isn't Darwin supposed to take care of that?


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

Wow people, it's not a big point. If he makes a trip just to save a downed bird, I think it's a waste of time, CO2 producing fuel, and money. Throw it in some bushes and let a cat get a good meal. If he's driving by and sees a bunch of people freaking out, well then that's cool. As a society we're focusing on stuff that doesn't really matter. Take down the Michael Vicks out there. Take down the crazy cat lady with 40 starving cats. Take down the horse beater. But, let's focus on stuff that matters! How many articles have you seen written about people hitting birds with their car, do you really care that much? The same birds are shot in great numbers during hunting season because they're over populated and the limits are crazy high.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 4 p.m.

Joe, based on your own opinions, again, could you not argue that humans helping animals is not evolution as well? After all, there is a reason that we all find baby animals "cute" and want to help them.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Joe, the bird was in the middle of a parking lot. Folks thought it might get run over because it was injured. HSHV educated them about two things: 1.) Baby birds are often on the ground, learning to fly and 2.) Mother birds don't reject babies who have been touched by humans. Everyone who read this article learned something. Lighten up. I hope someone less callous than you encounters the next lost baby bird.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

Once again, humans helping humans is evolution. There is a reason we care about each other. Saving a bird with a broken wing serves no purpose. That was a racoon's dinner, which now starves. Human's shouldn't interfere with nature's plan.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

So joe, if someone sees you drowning in a pool, hurt in a car crash or needing any kind of assistance - based on your opinions - one can assume that no one should help you and let "darwin take care of it"?

tom swift jr.

Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

Joe, we'll have them call you for each case so you can deem which animal is "worthy" to receive assistance. I hope you can sleep well, it's tough being God.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

Children are apart of the human society and we as a collective take care of them, hence in human evolution, others helping out in times of need exist. I doubt humans have much to do with birds learning to fly, thus helping that bird may set forth a need of it's offspring to be helped to fly by humans. I.e. Darwin needs to win sometimes.


Mon, Jul 16, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

Children are taken care of when they are lost from their parents or are injured and have a higher intelligence level and more resources...we don't leave it to Darwin to take care of them. We have interventions that help them remain safe. I don't see why it's problematic for an organization that takes care of animals to do the same.