Vets and legal experts meet to discuss ways to handle and prevent animal abuse cases
BATON ROUGE - Cases of animal abuse have been in the headlines a lot in recent months. Today, an unusual mix of veterinarians and attorneys met to discuss ways to prevent and prosecute these types of crimes.
Sadly, cases of animal torture, lethal neglect, and use of animals in bloodsports are frequent complaints in south Louisiana. Officials say they are not getting the attention they deserve.
"Animal shelters in our community definitely see animals that have been abused," said Dr. Wendy Wolfson, Assistant Professor at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. "Some of those cases do end up at the veterinary school."
Vets like Dr. Wolfson say those who harm animals need to face the consequences. However, they need the cooperation of prosecutors.
"The veterinarian message today is for prosecutors to identify veterinarians who are well trained in forensics and find veterinarian schools who train students to also help identify cruelty," Wolfson said.
Dr. Herman Soong, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Tulane University, says most animal abuse occurs at the hands of someone with a mental disorder. Soong claims animals are often the first victims of people who become rapists and killers.
"Evaluating the mental health of the offender, whether if he is abusing animals or humans, is necessary for prosecution with the intervention of therapy and treatment," Dr. Soong said.
Cases of animal torture, dogfighting, and heartbreaking neglect are frequently reported to authorities. A recent case led to the arrest of a Zachary police officer after two dogs were found dead in the trailer home he'd abandoned weeks before.
Forensic pathologists at the Vet School work to determine how these animals died.
"Our Louisiana diagnostic lab that is here at the school is very helpful," Wolfson said. "We do have a forensic pathologist who is involved in those cases."
"Animal crimes, historically, have not been tracked at all," said David Rosengard, Managing Attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. "In fact a few decades ago, a lot of animal crimes were not even charged or investigated."
Rosengard says a lot remains to be done to protect animals and prosecute those who harm them.
"I can't necessarily look at a cow and tell you whether that cow is suffering but a veterinarian can," Rosengard said. "I can't necessarily read an interview with a defendant and say this person is suffering from a mental health issue but a psychologist can. Therefore lawyers can go to those practitioners and help inform them. So when they encounter this in their work, they see injured animals and they can be aware of the signs."
The conference concludes tomorrow and includes a discussion about cockfighting, which was legal in Louisiana until 2008.
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