By Kim Robson:
“Court Case Dogs” are victims of neglect or abuse who have been rescued by police and animal control officers and are held as evidence in criminal court cases against their abusers. In partnership with Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) and the City of Chicago, a program named Safe Humane Chicago assesses these unfortunate dogs before volunteers socialize and train them to be wonderful family companions, then transfers them to partner rescue groups, and provides lifetime behavioral support.
Since 2010, the program has been giving dogs who’ve been pulled into the legal process another chance at happiness. They house, vet, socialize, exercise and train dogs seized from neglectful or criminally charged owners. They’ve adopted them into loving homes, and facilitated their “giving back” to the community as ambassadors and loving companions.
Before this program, court case dogs were warehoused until the owner’s case was decided or the owner gave up the dog. “The dogs were in legal limbo, and then routinely euthanized following the disposition of their owners’ cases,” says Cynthia Bathurst, founder of Safe Humane Chicago. The dogs lived in cages at CACC while their owners’ court cases dragged on. When the program started in 2010, only 2% of “evidence” dogs survived, living in cages — for a year on average — until their deaths. The heartbreaking plight of one dog named Francis became the inspiration for change to never again let these innocents fall between the cracks.
Now, Safe Humane Chicago has saved more than 600 dogs staying at CACC for an average of two to four weeks with socialization, training and love. 500 have been adopted into loving homes. Board member Keri Burchfield, a sociology professor who studies animal crime, says, “The program showcases these dogs as models of resilience, and the volunteers for their ethic and compassion. And it is important to society for shedding light on the problem of animal abuse and ways to improve our criminal justice system’s response to it.”
Bathurst adds, “These dogs come from a variety of circumstances, most commonly from abuse and neglect, some from fighting or related criminal enterprises, some from hoarding situations. Some of these dogs have endured especially unjust treatment. All are now humanely and lovingly cared for and act as representatives of the kind of compassion our communities need to be safer.”
As the program grows, not just the dogs are reaping benefits. Incarcerated young men are taught how to socialize the dogs in a three-month program at the Illinois Youth Center Chicago. Police officers, attorneys, judges, and court advocates are learning better ways to investigate, prosecute, adjudicate and track criminal cases involving dogs so that cases are resolved more quickly. Chicago area military veterans suffering from PTSD are given a chance to heal and be healed by connecting with the dogs.
During their participation in the program, the dogs receive veterinary assessments and care, and behavioral assessments on and off leash, in playgroups with one or more dogs, and possibly with children. Once selected, they have access to free behavioral consultation and training for life.
Despite high profile animal abuse cases like Michael Vick’s creating public interest in animal victims, most people have no idea how long these animals sit and wait and suffer, or that so many go on to live fulfilling lives as therapy dogs, loving family pets, or advocates against breed discrimination.
There’s hope that other municipalities could adopt similar programs. It takes only a few key people placed in law enforcement, animal control, the court system, the rescue community and the public to make positive change in laws, principles and procedures that grow better communities.
Dogs are amazingly resilient and loyal to their human beings, and our bond with them brings untold benefits and joys. Better animal welfare laws integrated with better community welfare laws and enforcement are sorely needed.
Want to help? You can donate money on the Safe Humane Chicago website. You can follow them via Facebook, Twitter, or an email subscription. They also have t-shirts, sweatshirts and calendars for sale. Or you can volunteer, advocate, transfer a Court Case Dog, foster a Court Case Dog, or adopt a Court Case Dog.
To learn more about Animal welfare check out Animal Welfare.org, for a