Participants in the first animal cruelty prosecution training conference hosted by AWI and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in 2009 came looking for guidance—and like-minded souls. They included individuals who had volunteered to take on their offices’ animal cruelty cases—generally not very sought-after assignments at the time. In fact, one senior district attorney was dismissively referred to as “the puppy prosecutor” by some judges.
Times have most definitely changed. Increased awareness of the connection between animal cruelty and other forms of violence has fostered an appreciation of the seriousness of animal cruelty crimes in and of themselves, and such cases are being pursued more aggressively. The Virginia and New York attorneys general have established animal cruelty units within their offices; equally important, this is becoming more widespread among local prosecutors’ offices.
The first local units were created over 10 years ago by forward-looking district attorneys in the City of Los Angeles; the County of Los Angeles; DeKalb County, Georgia; and Wayne County, Michigan. There are now more than 30 such offices nationwide. In 2013, Oregon became the first state to have a full-time animal cruelty prosecutor available to assist all 36 district attorneys in the state with animal abuse cases.
The newest member of this growing community is the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit under Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon. He surely spoke for all such units when he observed that “designating one unit to handle animal abuse cases is a critically important step in showing the public that our office understands the seriousness of these crimes and that we are committed to being a voice for the voiceless.”