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.

Disaster Preparedness for Pets

Remember when we used to think of only earthquakes when we considered the disasters San Francisco might experience? Unfortunately, that list is growing, so being prepared is critical for you and your pets.

At the October 14 meeting of the S.F. Commission of Animal Control and Wefare, our own Dr. Shari O’Neill, DVM, gave a comprehensive presentation on the supplies to have on hand for your pets, how to make a pet disaster plan, and where to seek shelter for you and your pets in the event of an emergency. You’ll learn exactly what you need in your pet go-to bag. Be ready. Your pets are counting on you!

View the meeting recording HERE (the presentation starts at about minute 7).

Download the PDF: SFACC Pet Preparedness & Sheltering Presentation.

2020 Annual Friends of SFACC Rescue Partner Grant Awards

SNAP Cats, located in Santa Rosa, CA, is dedicated to the rescue and care of Special Needs cats, including FeLV+, FIV+ and seniors. SNAP Cats is one of 25 SFACC partner rescue organizations that received a Friends of SFACC grant last month. 

Each year, Friends gives local animal rescue organizations microgrants to help them rescue all species of animals from the shelter. In May, 25 applications were received and 25 grants were awarded to partners for their work in 2020. The grant amounts ranged from $500-$3,000. Here’s a quick run-down of the process this year:
1. The SFACC team provided the Friends grant committee (one Friends employee, two SFACC employees, and five Friends board members) with a master list of partners from the past year with the number of animals taken in by each partner.
2. Sixty-five groups were invited to apply via email and all partners were given one month to return a simple application for funds.
3. Committee members reviewed each application, then had a two-hour virtual meeting to discuss each organization and agree on an award amount for each.

The grants can make a real difference in helping with medical or supply needs, especially for smaller organizations. Darryl Roberts, the Found/Executive Director of SNAP Cats: “We enjoy our relationship with SFACC and will continue to rescue as many special needs/senior cats from them as possible. Out of the 22 cats that we’ve rescued from SFACC to date, only one has not been adopted. We’re hoping to find a home for her soon. Thank you again for your generous grant!”

Here are the recipients of the 2020 Rescue Grant Awards:

Copper’s Dream
Dog Zone
Every Pet’s Dream Rescue
Give Me Shelter
Grateful Dogs
JNW Reptiles
Mickaboo Birds
NorCal Bully Breed
Ohlone Humane Society
One Living Sanctuary Rescue
Pure Breds Plus
Ratical Rodent
Save a Bunny
Saving Grace Rescue
Snap Cats
Sonoma Reptile
Sweet Farm
The Heart of Rescue (THOR)
Town Cats Rescue
Toy Dog
Underdog Animal Rescue
Wildcare Solutions

Bravo and thanks to all the organizations who work with SFACC all year. A special shout-out to Kathryn Jones, SFACC Adoption Partner Transfer Coordinator; McKenzie Joseph, Director of Development & Communications for Friends of SFACC; and Remy Savin, Friends of SFACC Board Member, who collectively guided and implemented the award process.

Wayne’s Big Adventure

By Kathryn Jones
Adoption Partner Transfer Coordinator

A few weeks ago, we received a dog for surrender who originated from a rescue in Colorado. Typically, when a dog is surrendered to SFACC and comes from a rescue, that rescue will take their dog back. This is great because it allows us to use our resources on dogs that do not already have rescue placement.

Wayne, or Lil Wayne, as he lovingly became known, is a teenage herding dog mix who was having a hard time in the city. He needed to get back to where he came from–the Rocky Mountains! As the rescue coordinator, I tracked down Wayne’s original rescue and reached out to them to see if they would be in a position to take Wayne back. And fortunately, they were!

Now came the real challenge. How on earth do you get an anxious teenage working dog from San Francisco to Colorado? Wayne had about 1,300 miles to cover and that was a daunting prospect.

With the help of a crew of volunteer pilots, an SFACC transporter, and a volunteer driving on the receiving end, we made it happen. One of our fabulous transport volunteers, Chris, picked up Wayne from our shelter on Thursday morning and delivered him to the little airport in San Carlos. From there, Wayne flew to Elko, NV and then hopped aboard a different plane and flew to Salt Lake City, Utah. From Utah, a volunteer transporter drove Wayne back to his hometown of Brighton, Colorado.

This transport had a lot of moving parts and factors I had never previously had to worry about (wind!) that made it an interesting challenge. It was really inspiring to see how many people were willing to donate their time, skills, and resources in order to help a dog they’d never even met. And now Wayne is safely back where he belongs!

Leave the Nightlight On, Mom!

By Paula Benton, SFACC Behavior & Training

Teaching a child that she can fall asleep peacefully, alone in her room, is a well-known parenting process. But how do you teach a dog to feel comfortable when left alone?

Many canine welfare industry professionals suspect that as Covid restrictions start to lift and people begin to re-enter the workplace, pet dogs (many of them newly adopted during Covid) may experience separation-related problems. Only time will tell if this will happen. In preparation however, SFACC’s Behavior & Training department offers our top 12 favorite tips for pet owners who currently work from home and may soon need to leave their dog alone, perhaps for the first time in a year.

Separation-related problems for dogs cover a broad spectrum. Some dogs may experience a few minutes of intermittent, frustrated mild barking and then settle down peacefully for a nap. Others may exhibit full-blown medically diagnosed separation anxiety and present more serious panic behaviors, such as self harming, intense pacing, a need to escape to reunite with the owner, home destruction, and digging and chewing beyond natural puppy boredom. Many dogs fall somewhere in between.

Helping your dog feel more comfortable and secure when left alone can be a lot of fun—and not as hard as it sounds! The following simple tips can be used successfully right now in your home. These tips are designed to help prevent separation-related distress or problems. Please note they are not designed to modify existing extreme separation anxiety. If your dog is experiencing serious anxiety and panic, please see your veterinarian immediately and seek the assistance of a certified professional dog trainer.

1. Don’t Delay, Start Today! If you have not left your dog alone in quite some time, today is your day. Please understand that the longer you put off this valuable skill building, the harder it may be for you and your dog to succeed.

2. Have Patience! If you have recently moved or adopted a dog, it is reasonable that he or she will need time to transition to a new routine, home, neighborhood, or family. Mild separation-related problems will likely fade away within a few weeks.

3. Alone Time Is FUN Time! Teaching your dog to associate your departure with something she loves is key. There are many very successful learning tools you can use, such as mouth-watering food puzzles or fun hunt-and-seek games. You can research some of our favorites online, including: Nina Ottosson puzzles, stuffed frozen Kongs, Snuffle Mats, Hide-A-Squirrel plush toys, and interactive tumbler-type treat dispensers. An old stand-by is to sprinkle a generous handful of kibble throughout the room your dog will occupy, right before you leave your home. As she eventually catches on to this simple hide-and-seek game, tuck some kibble pieces in, under, and on top of things in the room to add difficulty. When offered consistently, any and all of these positive associations will have your dog nuzzling you out the door!

4. Ping Pong! Contrary to what you may have heard, take care not to make your departures longer and longer each time. You want to avoid accidently increasing your dog’s frustration or distress with predictably longer sessions. Instead, build in success by ping-ponging the length of time you are gone. For example: Today you might leave for 10 minutes in the afternoon; tomorrow, try 5 minutes in the morning and then 15 minutes in the evening.

5. Sounds Good! Leaving on talk radio or a chatty television channel like HSN or QVC can help mask outdoor sounds your dog may overreact to with excessive barking. White noise machines can also assist in muffling environmental sounds.

6. Eliminate Before You Vacate! Take your dog for a 15- or 30-minute relaxed neighborhood walk before you leave your dog alone. The opportunity to stretch his legs, and wee and pooh will surely add to his comfort. However, take care not to exercise him in high aerobic activities prior to your departure. This can keep his adrenaline higher than you want when he’s alone.

7. This Bed Is Just Right! We all know every dog has her own preferences regarding just about everything. As your dog’s personal “P.I.,” it’s your job to discover her alone-time location preference that provides comfort and security. Be observant. Is your dog most secure in a cozy den-like crate, lying on one of your tee shirts and chewing on a Benebone? Is she most comfortable loose in your living room, secured by baby gates, snoring on the couch? If your dog feels secure alone in your car because she has a 360-degree visual connection to the world, try positioning her near a home window before you leave. Find out what is just right for her.

8. Clear the Decks! In preparation for leaving your dog alone safely in a designated room, put yourself in his paws and scan the environment from his canine point of view. Remove any and all household items that may beckon him to chew, gnaw, or swallow. Taking just a few minutes to do this will avoid hindering his progress and encourage success instead.

9. Say No to No! If you return home to find your dog has had an accident or made a bit of a mess, do not punish your dog. Simply put, he will sense you are intensely unhappy but will not understand why. Punishing him creates confusion and frustration. Instead, while you tidy up, take careful note of the place where you left him. This can be invaluable when you are investigating his alone-time location preference.

10. Be a Good Neighbor! Contact your neighbors and let them know you are working with your dog to help him feel more confident and comfortable when left alone. Make them aware that they might hear some barking or whining, and ask if they will be participants in your training process. Give them your phone number and ask them to contact you directly if they hear excessive barking.

11. Don’t Leave Me This Way! Sometimes leaving our dogs is harder for us than for them. Take this into consideration. Make your departures as normal and easy-going as they would be if you didn’t have a dog. Try to avoid over-fussing, and just ignore your dog 5-10 minutes prior to your departure. The same rings true when re-entering your home. Your goal is to normalize this procedure for you and your dog.

12. I Spy! Ever wonder what your dog does when you are gone? Set up a video camera or mobile phone and record your dog’s behavior after you’ve departed. This will give you an accurate picture of what your dog looks and sounds like when alone, and valuable insight into what’s working for her and what’s not.

Preparing your dog for “life after Covid” by teaching him to rest and sleep confidently when alone is important to his overall health and well-being. Dogs, like young children, need a great deal of rest each day. The average young puppy requires approximately 16-20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period; the average adult dog requires 12-14 hours. Try each of these 12 simple tips to help your dog have successful, restful time alone. And remember: Start today!