Humane Society marks 50th animal abuse guilty verdict
The Humane Society of Huron Valley’s Animal Cruelty Investigation and Emergency Rescue team recently marked its 50th guilty verdict since the end of 2009.
Photo courtesy of HSHV
The animals were left with no care and in deplorable condition,s with several inches of feces covering the floor of the house. On Oct. 14 of last year, HSHV served a warrant and animals taken from the house were sick and emaciated with scalds on their body from living in waste. Several of the animals died, but the rest have since been adopted.
Executive Director Tanya Hilgendorf said the house had to be condemned and later demolished. Richards was found guilty of a misdemeanor on May 3 and will be sentenced June 14.
Hilgendorf said the milestone is significant and partially due to the new leadership of Matthew Schaecher, director of Animal Cruelty Investigation and Emergency Rescue. Washtenaw County now has the highest animal cruelty prosecution rate of any county in Michigan.
“We investigate yearly about 500 suspected cases of animal abuse and neglect,” she said. “The work we put into that is quite extraordinary because we are the police officers, the detectives and the ambulance service.”
In 2011, the organization investigated 450 reports. The organization has received 144 reports so far this year. In total, there are five people on the team who investigate cruelty.
Hilgendorf said punishment for cruelty ranges from fines to possible jail time.
Eric Rutley was the first individual given jail time as a result of animal cruelty in Washtenaw County after he was found guilty of beating his girlfriend’s 5-month-old puppy, Brownie, nearly to death with a tire iron.
Rutley received a two- to four-year prison sentence in 2010 and it was reported that Washtenaw County Circuit Judge David Swartz said he would have issued more time if state guidelines had allowed. Swartz also ordered Rutley to pay $8,335 in restitution incurred for Brownie’s care.
Hilgendorf said solving animal cruelty cases is important not only for the animals but the community as well. She said research has shown there is a link between those who commit acts of violence against animals and other violent criminal acts such as rape, assault, child abuse and murder.
In 2004, Rutley, was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, assault and delivery of marijuana to a minor. Before that, Rutley was convicted of stabbing a man in the chest with an ice pick, according to court records.
“We’ve always known it academically,” Hilgendorf said. “These are rather unsavory people.”
Hilgendorf said the cases of Richards and Rutley demonstrates how prosecutors and judges have begun to take animal cruelty seriously.
“If we didn’t have cooperation and equal concern from the other professionals, we would be accomplishing very little,” she said.
Hilgendorf also credits increased “aggressiveness” against animal cruelty for the spike in cases being resolved.
“I think it really started with us becoming more aggressive and building those relationships because if we don’t build the case and bring it the prosecutor’s desk, nothing happens,” she said. “It started with our own sense of wanting to protect animals and send a strong message that animal cruelty is illegal and inhumane.”
The community also plays a large part in the ability of HSHV to not only prosecute but to locate individuals.
“What is really important is that it really is a community effort,” Hilgendorf said. “It is our community of donors that pay for our investigators; it is not tax dollars. We rely on people to make reports. They are the eyes and voices of the animals and we also get assistance from the Sheriff’s Department.”
Hilgendorf said reports come in ranging from people who left their animals outside in extreme heat to actual physical abuse. She said HSHV is still seeing a number of dog fighting instances in the area.
HSHV puts forth as much of its resources as it can into save lives, but sometimes it’s too late. In 2011, 1,018 dogs and cats were euthanized. Thirty-eight percent had serious behavioral issues, 57 percent had serious medical illnesses and the remaining 5 percent were euthanized because there were not enough resources to help them at the time.
“There are times when really their life is in jeopardy and they have injuries they can't survive from,” Hilgendorf said. “If they’ve been treated badly and their temperament is ruined, we might have to put them down.”
When examining how many animals are saved, HSHV has the highest save rate and number in the state of Michigan with 4,651 animals that were either adopted, reunited, or transferred to other facilities or organizations.
“We focus on trying to save them and get them into happy homes,” Hilgendorf said. “This community really embraces the idea of helping and being a part of a rescue. People don’t see the animal as ruined. We promote them as survivors.”
On June 1, HSHV will have a free ice cream social from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at its location at 3100 Cherry Hill Road to celebrate the work of the cruelty team.