Convicting Animal Abusers: Charlie’s Case Study

By Lead Animal Control Officer Rebecca Fenson #22, CACO

Remember the Brian Cook case involving Charlie, the sweet Golden Retriever puppy? In January 2022, Cook was charged and pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and neglect, a misdemeanor. The word got out (including a great TikTok video!) and reached the University of San Francisco School of Law. Matthew Liebman, Associate Professor and Chair of the Justice for Animals Program invited former Assistant District Attorney Paige Zielinsky (who prosecuted the case and has since left the DA’s office) and me to speak to his law students and give them an inside glimpse into how SFACC’s Animal Control Officers (ACOs) investigate crimes-against-animals cases and then present the cases to the District Attorney’s office.

Professor Liebman specializes in animal law and was teaching a seminar about whether animals are entitled to justice and how such an entitlement intersects with human social justice struggles. Paige and I were invited to speak to the students in late March on a day when they were exploring the relationship between animals and the criminal justice system, and discussing how restorative justice principles might be applied in animal cruelty cases. He specifically asked us to share how the Cook case was investigated and prosecuted.

Paige and I put together a Power Point presentation and I spoke first, describing the work we do at SFACC and in Field Services, and then explaining how we investigated the case and created a case file to bring to the DA’s office. I talked about the challenges of this case (for example, we found no direct evidence, just piles of circumstantial evidence), Cook’s demeanor as the investigation progressed, and how this case differed from the other cases I’ve handled. For example, Cook was consistently taking his injured puppy to the veterinarian and paying for all of the recommended treatments. This was unusual because one of the most common violations we see when we respond to and investigate cases of abuse or neglect is that the animal (usually a puppy or adult dog) is suffering from a medical condition such as Parvo, a severe skin condition, a broken leg, or is emaciated, and is NOT taken to a veterinarian. Also unusual was the fact that Cook was consistently cooperative and polite (later this absence of emotion and his odd detachment was creepy and weird, but the lack of hostility was initially surprising).

After my chronological summary of the investigation, Paige talked about the post-investigation criminal prosecution. Her topics included charging, discovery, arraignment and plea, offer and negotiations, diversion (Diversion is when the case is diverted out of the court system and into Neighborhood Courts, which doesn’t offer a “no animal” condition and is often dismissed with no record—we didn’t want that to happen for this case), and the case disposition.

We could have talked longer, there was so much to this case, and not enough time for a Q&A. Paige and I communicated afterwards and agreed that we made a great team and really enjoyed working together on the case. And, even though she is no longer with the DA’s office, she will assist us in any way she can in the future.

Later, Matthew said that he and the students learned a lot. It was rewarding to talk to such a perfect audience—young people who are interested in seeking justice for animals through the law. I was very happy to connect with Matthew, who is as committed as I am to helping all animals, and we plan on talking again in the future about our work.

To view the Cook Investigation and Prosecution presentation, click Brian Cook PPT.

March 2022

In March, 2022, SFACC adopted out 54 animals: 13 dogs, 30 cats, 11 other species. Transfers to partner organization totaled 162 animals: 83 dogs, 22 cats, and 57 other species.

Congratulations to all the adopters and thank you for adopting from your municipal shelter!

Sweet Pumpkin Pie has been adopted after a long stay at SFACC and she quickly became a staff and volunteer favorite. We’re so happy for her and her new family! Her new name is Dolly Parton, perfect for this social darling.

And just like that…all the kittens have been adopted! Here’s tuxie cutie Shailee with her happy new family!

Wee pup Frijolita has gone home!

Update: Beautiful Quinn was adopted last month and is loving her forever home! “She loves all her human and fur family members” and her chi brother Saffron is “warming up to her complete sweetness.” And she’s shown a singing talent, like her new mom.

Caturday adoption photo: Sesame and Mint went home together! Have a great life and send us updates!

Goofy Damien has found his new home.

Doodle pup Ringo became available on Saturday and was very quickly adopted, by one of our long time volunteers!

Wee kitten Paprika has gone home!

Tommy Pickles has left the building! Is that a happy face or what? Have a great life cutie and send us updates!

Sweet little Sprite was adopted last week and already came by for a visit! Her new name is Juniper.

Fluffy beauty Jessye was adopted last month and we already have an update! “Jessye is living her best cat life and is doing typical cat things, like sitting on my laptop. She’s the love and light of my life, and the best furry companion.”

Cashmere was adopted a year ago and we just heard from her happy adopters: “She is one of the sweetest hamsters I’ve ever known (and I’ve known many throughout my childhood and now my kids’ childhoods)! She is definitely an escape artist, so we have to keep very close tabs on her, but she has never bitten anyone, and is super fun to have around. Here are a few photos so you can see her living her happy hamster life.”

Miss Molly with her new parents.

Tuxie beauty Catricia has been adopted, before we even had a chance to post her!

Stella has gone home! She only has eyes for her new mom! 

Hooray: Senior bonded pair of fluffy glamorpusses Pippa and Thomas have been adopted! 

Katy Jones: Portrait of a Cat Lady

By Lisa Stanziano
Newsletter Editor/Dog Volunteer

Usually, I see Katy Jones at the shelter with a dog on a leash, or in the courtyard with other Behavior & Training colleagues, evaluating dogs or talking to a rescue partner about transferring some. We don’t see her on the “cat side” much. But one of the best kept secrets about her is that Katy cut her adult rescue teeth on cats. No, she didn’t bite them, she trapped them, fixed them, and rehomed them.

As a 19-year-old living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Katy noticed there were LOTS of free-roaming cats in the neighborhood. She also observed kind souls feeding colonies of cats and quickly learned about TNR (trap/neuter/release). Katy bought a trap from Craigslist and decided to pitch in. She would trap cats, get them fixed and release the most feral. If they seemed to like humans, she’d foster them and find them homes. “Starting out, I did all the wrong things, like keeping 4-month-old kittens in pairs as I attempted to socialize them. Sometimes having two scared kitties together can impede their progress, and once they’re at that age, turning them around can be VERY challenging. Fortunately, I found adopters who were understanding of their behavioral quirks from living such a significant portion of their development on the wild streets of Brooklyn.”

Determined to help these roaming cats, she sometimes waited in her carovernight–to keep an eye on the trap so that as soon as a cat went in, she could retrieve it. Also, to safeguard her equipment. The Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn is sketchy. Once, a wooden board she was using to block an escape route hole in a fence was stolen. Katy persisted. She became known in the area as the Cat Lady. She got a call once about a vacant house with squatters living upstairs and kittens discovered in the basement. Using the flashlight from her phone, she made her way in the dank basement to find them, dodging the fleas jumping off the floor. She got the kittens out. They were ~4 weeks old. She kept them in her bathroom, bottle fed and socialized them. When they were older, she got them fixed and then adopted. “I had a lot of bottle babies pass through my bathroom back then! I once found a litter that still had umbilical cords, covered in fleas under a car during a heatwave. No sign of Mom, so I took them in. My first time raising bottlers from birth!”

Brooklyn at that time did not have the resources that many cities do now (like SF), with the Community Cats (program), and TNR volunteers and services. Spay/neuter services were scarce. First come, first served. “I would get in line at the ‘snip truck’ at 3am with 8-week-old kittens in my coat pockets because I couldn’t carry the number of carriers I needed. And I kept the kittens warm that way. March in NY is not warm and I remember the other trappers and I would take turns holding each other’s spots in line and going to the bodega across the street for hot chocolate. It was a pretty bizarre scene, but somehow a really sweet little community.”

Rehoming all the cats that Katy found or that made their way to her was another challenge but she was up for that too. Her skill with figuring out who of her friends and neighbors wanted, needed, or knew someone who wanted/needed a cat expanded to a wide network and she’s still in touch with adopters who give her updates/photos. One particular outdoor cat, a wary tabby she called Frank, found his way to her yard in Oakland and would stand on her stoop and look inside but wouldn’t go in. “The door was always open for him but he was so hesitant. I was moving in a week and wanted to take Frank. I knew if he stayed, he wouldn’t be ok. Finally, I just picked him up and he went limp. He was ready to be taken care of. Now he’s living the good life in San Rafael with a lovely lady named Fran. Frank and Fran–a perfect match!”

Frankie on Katy’s Oakland stoop, and in his forever home with Fran in Marin.

Katy’s destiny of working in animal welfare seemed a birthright. “My family loved animals and my mom was always bringing home animals and fostering them. I was four when she came back from the grocery store with two small kittens. We named them Fred and Ginger.”

When she was 16, her family drove to Florida for vacation and rescued a dog that was lost near the freeway! They picked up the dog and found it a home before their vacation ended.  Though Katy’s family moved several times, there was no question that the pets would come with them. This philosophy carried through her own moves as an adult. When relocating from the east coast to Oakland, California, she drove out with her dogs and bought a plane ticket for a close friend to escort her cats. No pet would ever be left behind!

In her position at SFACC, Katy supervises the Behavior and Training Division (three other staffers) and coordinates adoption partner transfers. Moving animals from a place where there’s a lot of competition for resources (space, adopters, etc.) to a place where there’s a demand for those animals is another skill that she honed in Brooklyn with kittens. “I pipelined the cats I trapped and cared for up to New England, where there’s actually, somehow, a kitten shortage. Probably because of the harsh winters.”

Katy’s especially excited about two B&T programs that are unique to most municipal animal shelters: FETCH (dogs) and PURR (cats). The programs use the expertise of experienced volunteers and B&T staff to focus on customized behavior work for dogs and cats that need a little extra socialization before they are ready to be adopted. “What’s great about these programs is they allow more flexibility and fluidity in approaching training and socialization plans for each animal. The volunteer groups are committed to collaborating with the staff and each other in a way that will positively affect the animals. They have access to timely behavior information about a cat or a dog–what one person tried that works or what someone has observed–and they’re able to communicate that to all parties involved. An animal that was considered under confident and shy on Monday might become a social butterfly by Friday and we’ll be able to share that with each other quickly and affect the outcome for that animal. Make them adoptable.”

So now you know. At the shelter, you might see Katy pushing a stroller with a 13-yr.-old Chihuahua in it or carrying a puppy. But her secret is out: rescuing animals started for her with cats!


Editor’s Note: Kathryn (Katy) Jones is the SFACC Adoption Partner Transfer Coordinator and Acting Supervisor of the Behavior & Training Division.

February 2022

In February, SFACC adopted out 59 animals: 26 cats, 15 dogs, and 16 other species (rabbits, guinea pigs, birds). The shelter transferred 135 animals: 46 cats, 43 dogs, and 62 other species to rescue partner organizations.

Fruitloop (now Kassi) has gone home!

Teddy (L) came to the shelter with a mop of cuteness. Not only did he get a makeover by SFACC staff, he was adopted and gained a sister, Izzy!

Kitty Update: Cleo and Jasper (formerly Pumpkin and Batman) were adopted as a kitten pair and are …”doing really well! Very energetic and always snuggling in the morning. Their fur got so thick and soft so quickly! No longer the tiny little kittens we adopted.

“Good Morning from Oregon! Craig here. I have found my forever home! There are so many new and curious things to check out. I go for lots of walks where I see squirrels, birds, horses, goats, chickens, and a big, scary black cat! The backyard is big enough so when I get the zoomies, I can really cover some ground! I am very happy and loved here in Oregon. PS – my humans changed my name to Rocky. I’m OK with it–because I’m a rockstar! I had no idea I have sooooo many friends on Facebook. Thank you for checking up on me, and a special thank you to SFACC for helping me find my forever home. Gotta go–here comes that big black cat. More later…”

Pittie sweetheart Quinn has gone home, with a distinguished new chi brother, Saffron (who doesn’t seem into having his photo taken; we feel you Saffron!). We can’t wait to hear about Quinn’s new life!

Venusaur adopted!

Sweet pup Bonnie has gone home. She only has eyes for her new mom!

Fluffy piggie girl Fiona went home with her new mom.

Sweetums has gone home with a big family full of love and fun! Happy tails!

Little pup Bernie has found her forever home!

Theodore has been adopted!

Hugo was adopted and now has a sibling.

Beauty Kara and her new parents.

The Compassion of an Animal Shelter

By Deb Campbell
Volunteering/Public Information/Outreach

(Names of the pets and their person have been changed to respect their privacy.)

Kate was doing well. She had a good job, a car, her own apartment, and was living with her beloved cat (Downy) and dog (Diamond) in San Francisco. She was even able to afford significant vet bills for Downy’s ongoing kidney issues. Her visits to the veterinarian totaled over $12,000–which she gladly paid with her savings.

Then the pandemic hit and Kate lost her job. She was eventually evicted from her apartment and ended up on the street with Diamond and Downy. Kate bought a car so that she and her pets would have shelter and remain together as a family.  The car became a home to Kate, Diamond, and Downy.

More bad luck ensued, and the car Kate bought turned out to have been stolen before she purchased it. She lost the car and was arrested for its theft, despite having nothing to do with stealing the car.

Diamond and Downy were picked up by Officer Danetra Burke and transported to San Francisco Animal Care & Control (SFACC). The animals were taken into protective custody to be cared for until staff could work with Kate to determine their future. Diamond (a six-year-old pit bull) and Downy (a six-year-old long-haired gray cat) are best friends, but could not be put in the same room together at the shelter. Both animals received warm beds, toys, and treats, and enrichment from specially trained volunteers.

Animal Control Officers wanted to make sure that Diamond and Downy were able to see each other. They brought both into the squad room (the Animal Control Officers’ headquarters) to hang out, see each other, and get affection and attention from all who saw them. Everyone fell in love.

When Kate was released from jail her priority was her pets. She wanted her companions back, but she wanted them to have a secure place to go.  Kate’s main concern was to make sure her beloved pets were safe. She was still homeless, but now she had no money and no car. She talked to SFACC’s Shelter Service Reps every day to let them know she was diligently looking for options to house herself and her pets. Shelter Service Reps, including Anacani Serrato, were impressed with her caring and commitment.

SFACC staff stepped in. Animal Control Officer Jason Kent and Animal Care Attendant Sandy Avila had a car that they didn’t need. They donated it to Kate. Now she had a place to live with Diamond and Downy. Officer Stephanie Pone knew Kate would need money to register the car, so she started a donation drive. SFACC staff donated over $600 to take care of the car registration and other expenses. Behavior & Training Supervisor Katy Jones, Officer Burke, and Officer Pone knew Kate would need supplies for her pets. They packed the donated car with toys, treats, bedding and food–and included special food for cats with kidney disease.

When Kate came to SFACC to be reunited with her pets, she learned that Operations Manager Ariana Luchsinger had waived all of the fees that she owed to the shelter. Kate was able to begin the next chapter of her life knowing that she and her pets had the best possible start thanks to the caring and compassionate staff of San Francisco Animal Care & Control.

The SFACC team (left to right; top to bottom)… ACA Sandy Avila, Officer Danetra Burke, B&T Supervisor Katy Jones, Officer Jason Kent, Operations Manager Ariana Luchsinger, Officer Stephanie Pone, and SSR Anacani Serrato.