Fighting abuse: How the NYPD Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad protects New York’s furry creatures every day

The NYPD is known for protecting the humans of the Big Apple, however, the police department also encompasses a specialized unit dedicated to aiding the many animals who also live in the five boroughs.

The NYPD is known for protecting the humans of the Big Apple, but they also have a specialized unit dedicated to aiding the many animals who also live in the five boroughs.

The Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad probes claims of abuse and neglect in an effort to protect the city’s population of 1.1 million pets — including some 600,000 dogs and 500,000 cats, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporations’ statistics.

But as NYPD squad members told amNewYork Metro, the process of tracking reports of animal abuse or neglect is not easy.

“Our victims can’t testify in court, so we have to build a case without a victim that can speak. We focus on a lot of medical records. We rely heavily on our partners at the ASPCA and their forensic veterinarians to identify injuries and the possible causes,” Adrian Ashby, commanding officer of the Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad, told amNewYork Metro. “It’s a little more labor intensive when it comes to building evidence on animal cruelty cases than a typical case where you can have a person sit on the stand in court.”

Adrian Ashby, Commanding Officer of the Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad (left) works with his team to save as many creatures as possible. NYPD

According to Ashby, pets are considered property under New York Law and in most cases, owners cannot simply be led away in cuffs at the first sign of mistreatment since the animal could possibly be suffering from an illness.

Therefore, police build their cases using public complaints, officer body camera footage, and the findings from forensic veterinarians who Ashby states can tell the difference between an animal being struck by a vehicle or a blunt object.

“We can’t just take an animal because we don’t think the person should have the animal, we have to stay within the law,” Ashby said. “Even though they’re considered property, we still have to remember that they are alive.”

Although the investigation process can be long and thorough, Ashby charged that the safety of the animals are paramount. When the time comes, the Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad often must rescue pets from unhealthy and even hazardous conditions.

Although he couldn’t share intimate details of cases, Ashby did share just some of the details the unit faces when attempting to save the animals of NYC.

The Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad truck. NYPD

Over the course of the summer of 2023, Ashby noted, the unit participated in several operations to rescue pets. In one shocking Queens incident, cops came upon a home overflowing with some 83 dachshunds.

“They were in very bad conditions to the point where there was urine, feces on the floor. The living conditions for the people as well as the animals were horrific,” Ashby said. “With the help of the ASPCA and the Queens DA’s office, we were able to get a search warrant, remove all these animals and the owner was arrested and charged.”

According to Ashby, the situation grew out of control when the dogs, who were not fixed, began breeding and breeding to the point the home became overwhelmed.

“They weren’t walking the dogs, they were basically just living in this house. And it just exploded and multiplied until it was just overwhelming,” Ashby said.

The Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad also aids in retrieving illegal exotic animals. Likewise, over the course of last summer, the unit traveled to the Coney Island boardwalk where they confiscated snakes that some underhanded entrepreneurs were charging beachgoers to take photos with.

“It is a dangerous scenario for the owner. Because if you don’t know how to properly take care of the animals, they can become sick,” Ashby explained. “Some of these biggest snakes like the Boas and anacondas. They are dangerous animals, these are predators. If they were to get out in the apartment building, they could wreak havoc on animals in that building. So, this is one of the biggest concerns with these animals being in the city.”

The Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad also gets inundated with lost and missing animal requests, it is with this in mind that Ashby says he requests all New Yorkers to fit their pets with a collar and license, even if they are an indoor pet.

“People believe they don’t have to keep a collar on their animals in the house, but that’s where most animals are lost from the yards and houses,” Ashby explained. “In the house they always feel safe, but the house is where most animals go missing.”