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Strategies for Managing Live Animals as Evidence, Part 1

The first of our two-part blog series focuses on strategies for getting abused animals into custody quicker.

Animal control agencies and some shelters are often tasked with investigating and holding live animals seized as evidence in animal cruelty cases. However, caring for seized animals over long periods of time as the case slowly winds its way through the legal system can take its toll on the animals’ health and well-being, as well as tax your resources. In this two-part series based on her recent webinar, “Strategies for Managing Live Evidence,” the ASPCA’s Stacy Wolf, Senior Vice President, Anti-Cruelty Group, offers helpful legal strategies that can lead to quicker, more humane dispositions for the victims of animal cruelty and help ensure you don’t go bankrupt doing the right thing.

If your organization does cruelty investigations, here are two effective strategies you can use to get the animals into custody quicker:

  1. Voluntary Surrender: Often the quickest way to remove animals from the alleged cruelty situation is to have the owner voluntarily agree to surrender them. That way, you can begin treating them immediately.

       Note that in cases of voluntary surrender:

  • There can be no coercion in a voluntary surrender. Explains the ASPCA’s Wolf, “You cannot say things like, ‘We will not arrest you if you turn over your animal.’” Statements like this would be considered coercive and negate the legality of the surrender.
  • Make sure your search warrant specifies that a voluntary surrender during the execution of the search warrant is permissible, and that seized animals can be held or released at the discretion of the prosecuting attorney.
  • Read the surrender form out loud to the owner and ensure they understand it, and then have them sign the form. If you have any doubt that they do not understand or are incompetent, do not pursue this option. Sample surrender forms can be found here.
  • Even when a voluntary surrender is obtained, confer with the prosecuting attorney before you adopt out or euthanize any animals.
  1. Abandonment as a Crime: Leaving an animal with no intent of returning is considered abandonment—and it’s a criminal action in most states. So, when an “owner” of an abused animal denies ownership, you can use that to your advantage. Wolf has seen cases where people have claimed that animals in their own backyard were not theirs—note that if that’s the case, you can treat the animals as abandoned property and proceed to seize them. It’s always a good idea to consult your attorney first.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will discuss how to minimize your financial burden when caring for seized animals.


Related links:

Webinar: “Strategies for Managing Live Evidence”

How-To: Separating Animals from the Abusers after a Criminal Case

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