Animal Cruelty Training

Heartland Humane Society of the United States hosted a training Wednesday for Ottumwa police on how to recognize animal cruelty, spoke of animal fighting and how to work with humane societies on animal abuse cases.

OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa Police Department and the Humane Society collaborated Wednesday to host a training on recognizing animal cruelty.

Trevor Whipple, a Humane Society law enforcement trainer, said animal cruelty cases involving animal hoarding and sexual fetishes is more common than people realize.

Whipple told Ottumwa police officers to have a prosecutor or others who have witnessed these cases to find resources to address animal cruelty. No matter what happens, Whipple said, law enforcement should deal with a situation as best as they can.

“I used to have cops tell me, ‘don’t let the final outcome control what you do in your job,’” Whipple said. “Don’t let that discourage you, do the best you can hold your head high and maybe further up the chain — somebody else screws it up, you still got to do the best you can do and get up. Without you, then there is no change.”

“You have to ask,” Whipple said, ‘“How do we use what we have here to do the best we can?’”

Leighann Lassiter, Humane Society animal cruelty policy director, spoke about how Humane Society employees in Iowa handle animal abuse cases. Her team relies on local enforcement to help with animal fighting cases. However, she recommends asking the Department of Justice for advice on handling extreme cases.

“The cases where we’ve seen the DOJ step in on the animal fighting — are when there are a massive number of people gathering,” she said. “One of the most recent cases I know of that they worked on within Alabama, that was a massive area that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars that came every year and between five [500] to 800 people people gathered every Saturday for illegal gambling and moving animals.”

Lassiter said local officers needed to be aware of the federal PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) formerly known as the animal crush act. It was changed to the PACT act in 2019 because the animal crush act only allowed federal prosecutors to fine and sentence a person to prison if they distributed an animal crush video. The revised act allows a fine or seven-year prison sentence for video creators and distributors.

“So that was the catalyst for the PACT act,” Lassiter explained, “now federal prosecutors can prosecute the underlying cruelty. It expanded slightly.”

Whipple and Lassiter encouraged Ottumwa officers to work with Iowa Humane Society workers because there are subject matter experts, some of whom have gone undercover to investigate animal sexual abuse. “When it comes to animal sexual abuse, dog fighting, cock fighting — we have people, could help you craft your search warrant, could tell you what to work for,” Whipple said.

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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