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Training cops to be aware of animal abuse

Susan C. McDonough, a consultant on animal cruelty

Susan C. McDonough, a consultant on animal cruelty issues for the New York State Humane Association, speaks to a group of police officers during a workshop at the Police Academy in Brentwood. (Oct. 23, 2012) Credit: Daniel Brennan

Scratch the surface of an animal-abuse case and you're likely to find child or elder abuse, illegal guns, drugs and other crimes, a veteran police investigator said at a law-enforcement training session Tuesday.

And if you find an abused person in a house with a pet, it's likely the pet was abused as well, former New York State Trooper Susan McDonough said.

"So when you go out on an animal-cruelty case, look for child abuse and elder abuse . . . and when you go on child abuse, look for animal cruelty. You will find guns and drugs also," McDonough, a trooper for 26 years, told about 50 law enforcement personnel during an in-service training session at the Suffolk County Police Academy in Brentwood.

McDonough is one of several lecturers from the New York Humane Society who conduct workshops around the state to help police get familiar with laws on animal cruelty. Most of those laws are under the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, not the penal law, and are not part of the curriculum in most police training academies, she said.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and several state legislators said in April that they support a bill that would move those offenses into the penal laws.

"Animal abusers must be held accountable for their heartless crimes," one of those sponsors, state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), said Tuesday. "This . . . would give law enforcement stronger tools to prosecute animal-cruelty cases and help protect innocent animals who cannot protect themselves."

Researcher Harry Hovel spoke before McDonough, and called animal cruelty by youngsters "a training ground" that leads to other crimes, from nonviolent offenses such as burglary to violent assaults, rapes and even murders.

"If you can stop them, you're likely to stop them from future crimes as well," Hovel said in an interview later. "That's why it's so important to get this message out to the public, to judges, to law enforcement."

Hovel added, "Law enforcement is not well tuned into this. They investigate the crime, not the person. What caused that child to do it might not be well understood."

McDonough gave a talk that was both practical and philosophical, providing tips about search warrants, caring for seized animals, instruments used to train dogs for fighting and how to infiltrate dogfighting rings.

Sometimes, all the undercover officer needs is to make a phone call responding to an advertisement for dogs. Officers should use insider terms like "roll hard" or "the game" to describe dogfighting, she said, and the people who stage fights think that "cops do not know about this stuff so they don't expect someone who shows up to be a cop."

McDonough said the effort to educate law enforcement about animal cruelty has been uphill, but is succeeding. "When I started this 15 years ago I would get 15 people in a class. Today I have 55 signed up," she said.

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