Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Central Florida Agencies Take a Stand Against Animal Cruelty

Successful “Cruelty Hurts” Campaign Achieves Major Results by Second Year

ORLANDO, Fla.—April 1, 2010—Today marks the start of Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month, as well as the second anniversary of Orange County Animal Services’ “Cruelty Hurts” campaign aimed at educating Orange County citizens about animal cruelty and its link to human violence. Since kicking off last year in partnership with Crimeline of Central Florida, the campaign has integrated new partners into a community-wide approach to prevent and prosecute animal crimes.

CourtWatch Florida has recently signed on to track and publicize felony animal cruelty cases in Orange County through its WatchList blog and “Weekly WatchList” e-newsletter.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the response, both from partners and from the public to stand up for innocent animals that are subjected to unconscionable cruelty,” said Katherine Lockett, Division Manager of Animal Services. “Studies show animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, so we are proud to be leading this effort to keep our community safe.”

Since partnering one year ago, Crimeline and Orange County Animal Services have achieved remarkable results. With 97 tips to date, the relationship has yielded multiple confiscations of severely neglected animals, a multi-county cockfighting investigation and a felony arrest for animal cruelty that paid a $600 reward.

“Now that people can report these types of crimes completely anonymously by calling 800-423-TIPS, and potentially receive a cash reward for doing the right thing, we’ve seen a tenfold increase in the number of anonymous tips,” said Barbara Bergin, Executive Director of Crimeline. “Animals lives were saved by people who cared enough to call, and that’s exactly what we set out to do.”

Animal Services and Harbor House of Central Florida joined together in 2009. Focused on “The Link,”—a term trademarked by American Humane, which illustrates the relationship between animal cruelty, child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse—the organizations are working to increase awareness about The Link, create the first Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) Program in Central Florida and provide first-responder transport to animal victims of domestic violence.

“We’re thrilled about creating an innovative program for animal victims of domestic violence in Orange County, and we’re confident our partnership with Animal Services will save lives and keep families together,” said Carol Wick, Chief Executive Officer of Harbor House.

Beginning in April 2010, Animal Services partnered with CourtWatch Florida to track and publicize felony animal cruelty cases in Orange County. The non-profit organization, which currently monitors domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse hearings, was a natural fit because of The Link between animal cruelty and other domestic crimes.

“It is time perpetrators of animal cruelty are treated like the criminals they are by the courts, and we’re glad to be a part of the process to ensure that happens,” said Laura Williams, Executive Director of CourtWatch.

In addition, Animal Services has been working with local law enforcement to foster collaboration, much like its positive relationship with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office whereby the agencies cooperatively handle the civil and criminal aspects of investigations. Its trainings with Orlando Police Department and Ocoee Police Department have proved successful. Following Animal Services’ training with Ocoee Police Department, the agency made two significant felony animal cruelty arrests.

Animal Services also recently completed Continuing Legal Education (CLE) training for the State Attorney’s Office.

“Last year, we conducted 3,486 investigations of animal cruelty, neglect and abandonment,” said Lockett. “Our efforts are working towards getting these crimes reported, getting animals to safety, and ensuring criminals are brought to justice. That keeps our entire community safer.”

For more information about the campaign, click here.

About Orange County Animal Services
Orange County Animal Services is Central Florida’s largest pet rescue and adoption centers. Last year alone, Animal Services received nearly 24,000 animals at its shelter. For 40 years, the agency’s mission has been to protect pets and people in Orange County through courteous enforcement of the Orange County Code. Its vision is to give abandoned and neglected pets a second chance to live long, healthy lives in safe, loving homes. For more about Orange County Animal Services, visit their website.

About Crimeline
Central Florida Crimeline is an anonymous tip line answered 24 hours a day by live operators. All tipsters are kept completely anonymous. Crimeline does not trap, trace, record or have caller ID. If a tip leads to solving a felony case, the tipster may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000. Crimeline accepts anonymous tips at 800-423-8477 and via their website.

About Harbor House
Harbor House provides safe shelter, a 24-hour crisis hotline, counseling, emotional support and legal advocacy for thousands of domestic violence survivors and their children each year. Harbor House also prepares survivors for re-entry into the community—connecting them to resources that will enable them to live independently, safely and peacefully. Harbor House is Orange County's only state-certified domestic violence facility. Its 24-Hour Crisis Hotline is (407) 886-2856 (TDD) or (800) 500-1119 (FL). For more information, visit their website.

About CourtWatch Florida
CourtWatch Florida began as a subcommittee of the Orange County Domestic Violence Task Force and was incorporated in 2007. CourtWatch monitors domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases to make sure the system holds perpetrators accountable and doesn't re-victimize the victims. CourtWatch is a member of the National Association of Court Monitoring Programs. Its first training class was held in April 2007, and it has now trained over 150 volunteers as CourtWatchers and monitored in excess of 7,000 hearings. For more information, or to register for weekly emails to stay apprised of cruelty cases, visit our website.

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