The NYPD and ASPCA -- newly united to ferret out animal cruelty in NYC -- were in Tompkins Square Park Tuesday and Union Square Park yesterday raising public awareness about animal abuse.
Their message? Call 911 if you know a crime against an animal is in progress. Call 311 if you suspect an animal is being abused or neglected.
After a four-month pilot program in the Bronx concluded in December, the NYPD began responding to complaints involving animal neglect and cruelty as a part of normal law enforcement city wide. Prior to the NYPD's involvement, Humane Law Enforcement officers for the ASPCA handled most animal abuse reports, but the organizations decided such crimes would be more effectively and logically handled by city police. The handover generated complaints and concerns from some animal rights activists but the kinks and bugs that came with the transition have been worked out and cops have been trained in their new duties, said George Kline, the ASPCA's law enforcement liaison.
About 188 dogs and cats have been treated and handled by the ASPCA this year as a result of NYPD intervention, said a spokeswoman. In a statement, the ASPCA said it expects to save five times as many victims of cruelty this year with the NYPD's help than it was able to in any year in recent history.
The NYPD has recorded 68 arrests and issued 43 summonses for animal cruelty and neglect since Jan 1. That's about double the number of arrests made in the same period last year, said Kline. Charges can run from misdemeanors to felonies, but some cases -- such as those involving animal hoarding, an inability to afford emergency veterinary care and being unable to care for a pet as a result of domestic violence -- may be funneled to the ASPCA's Cruelty Intervention Advocacy program. The "CIA" helps troubled but well-intentioned pet owners address their animals' needs by providing emergency boarding, foster placement, veterinary care and referrals.
Cops are "really embracing" their new duties, said Kline, who retired from the NYPD about a year ago. "A lot of cops are animal owners. They own pets and they work with animals also," said Kline. Brutus, a German shepherd patrol dog leashed to a uniformed officer sat nearby as Kline continued Tuesday, "Police officers and law enforcement in general have always had a soft spot in their hearts for animals."
The issuance of summonses to drivers who leave their pets in overheated vehicles during heat waves has been "exponential," said Kline. "We've had animals thrown off roofs," as well as stabbed and shot, he continued. Animal abuse falls naturally into the realm of law enforcement, Kline explained, because "there's a high correlation of domestic violence and animal abuse."
People who abuse animals are also likely to abuse children, added Dr. Robert Reisman, supervisor of forensic sciences for the ASPCA Animal Hospital. When a child is being physically abused in a home where a pet is present, "90% of the time, there is animal abuse, too: They both represent individuals that are vulnerable," he said.
Reisman's team examines both dead and living animals that have been beaten, tortured, starved, dehydrated, tethered incessantly, burned, kicked and otherwise hurt. Then, "I write up a report and submit it to law enforcement and the (relevant) DA's office," so it can be used in prosecutions. Reisman also testifies in court.
Passersby picked up information about spaying and neutering, vaccinations, licensing, souvenir flashlights and finger puppets, and literature about ASPCA services.
Having cops focus on fighting animal abuse "is great," said Jenny Dirnfeld, 32, a Lower East Side esthetician who stopped by the Tompkins Square Park display with her elderly pitbull, Julia, a refugee rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. "Anything as long as animals are going to be saved: They need advocates," Dirnfeld said.