Central Texas officers get crash course in spotting animal cruelty

Travis County

DEL VALLE, Texas (KXAN) — Law enforcement from across the Austin area packed into a classroom to learn from the Humane Society of the United States about how to better detect, prevent and bring justice in animal cruelty cases.

This is the second time the Travis County Sheriff’s Office hosted the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for this training. 

Officers and shelter groups discussed statistics which show that domestic violence abusers are more likely to abuse animals as well as how to identify problem spots such as puppy mills. 

One of the cases discussed was the recent allegation in Bastrop County that a livestock owner had not taken care of his horses. 

“It is clear that our community will not stand by and allow animal abuse or neglect to go unchecked,” said Katie Jarl, Texas state director for HSUS.

She said, “The case of the dying horse in Bastrop is proof of that and we strongly encourage the sheriff and district attorney to hold this individual responsible. Our organization is ready and willing to help local authorities however we can to ensure justice is done for this horse and that no other animals still on the property endure the same fate.”

Jarl said HSUS has observed that Texans care more about the humane treatment of animals than ever before. She hopes classes like these can help law enforcement respond to the growing number of reports of neglect and abuse. 

“The whole goal of this class is to make sure that every single law enforcement officer walks away and feels confident that when they see a case of animal abuse, that they know exactly what to do to make sure it’s a very strong case,” she said. 

Now more than ever, Jarl noted that the general public can help out law enforcement officers getting justice for these animals by reporting and documenting things in their communities. 

“If you are a private citizen and you witness someone committing a crime against an animal, get photos, get videos, turn them over to law enforcement, it’s going to strengthen their investigation,” Jarl said. 

Also present at the class was Ashley Hermans from Bastrop County Animal Services. Though she works for the county, she works with cats and dogs and is not connected to the sheriff’s office investigators who are looking into the animal cruelty case. 

For Hermans, the class was a good reminder of the best ways for animal control officers to respond when they arrive at a scene.

“[The instructors] give you good ideas and tips about how you might be able to gather some of your evidence,” she explained. 

Hermans added that classes like this also refresh animal control officers on the law and research surrounding the work they do. She was particularly struck by statistics which showed that many domestic violence perpetrators also have a history of animal abuse. 

“Seeing the connection between animal abuse and violent and other types of crime involving people is something that is not as understood as it needs to be,” she said. 

In Texas, animal cruelty to livestock is a Class A misdemeanor and torturing or killing livestock is a third-degree felony. Punishments are harsher for non-livestock animal cruelty (mainly dog and cat cases).

If an animal is domesticated, it is required by Texas law to have access to reasonable food, water and care from its owner. Non-domesticated animals like cats and dogs are also required to have shelter. 

As of Wednesday, the Bastrop County sheriff said the investigation into the report of abuse there is still ongoing. 

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