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St. Clair County follows new protocol for animal abuse cases

Natalie Creamer, the community outreach coordinator for Gateway Pet Guardians, holds a puppy that will be available for adoption through the agency.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Law enforcement and animal welfare agencies in St. Clair County, Ill., are using a new playbook for animal abuse cases that they say will make it easier to prosecute those cases in the county.

St. Clair County state's attorney Brendan Kelly and officials with Gateway Pet Guardians and the Belleville Area Humane Society unveiled the protocol on Monday. It puts K-9 officers from the St. Clair County sheriff or surrounding police departments in charge of animal cruelty investigations, which were previously handled by the county's animal services department. In addition, the protocol provides investigators and animal welfare organizations with the kind of evidence to look for and document to help prove abuse cases.

"Very often, someone might see evidence of abuse or neglect, and not be able to respond to it or not document it properly," Kelly said. "By the time some agency comes back to investigate, it's too late, the animal's life has been lost, or the damage has been done, or we can't determine who harmed the animal because it wasn't [reported] in the timely way we're advocating for here."

Evidence is the key to holding abusers accountable, Kelly said. Thinking about these cases from the prosecution's point of view from the beginning will be "fruitful."

Jamie Case, the executive director of Gateway Pet Guardians, said the new protocol means her volunteers who work in East St. Louis and surrounding cities know exactly who to call if they see animals who are not being properly cared for. Animal control, she said, was limited in what it could do.

"Now that we have police backing, we can go in with a firmer arm than we could before," she said. "Really, what we want to do as Gateway Pet Guardians is be the community programming piece of this. We don't want to be the people who are saying, 'Your dog clearly hasn't been fed in over a week, there are wounds that aren't being treated, those kinds of things.'"

Kelly, the prosecutor, said getting tougher on animal abuse will make the community safer, as violence against animals is often a precursor to other kinds of violence.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.