A partnership between the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office and the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA has resulted in an increase in felony convictions for animal cruelty offenders.
Debi DeNardi, humane society captain of field services, said there have been as many as four felony convictions this year, amounting to close to 50 total felony and misdemeanor convictions in the two years the nonprofit has worked closely with the district attorney’s office.
"We were lucky to get six a year before that," DeNardi said.
An animal cruelty task force, comprising a judge and representatives from the district attorney’s office, the humane society, the county’s probation department and the veterinarian community, meets every one or two months to air their concerns, ask questions and discuss cases they think should be examined further, Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya said.
The partnership started less than two years ago as an effort to improve the PHS cases coming before the district attorney, a number of which fell through the cracks or died due to a lack of evidence. Maya said he reviews the cases and makes suggestions on how to make them stronger, advice that can range from evidence presentation to gathering witness statements.
The district attorney’s office currently plans on pressing charges for a handful of cases that recently came to fruition. In August, officers found 50 goats in Portola Valley in allegedly unclean and unhealthy conditions. Earlier in the month, 200 animals that were allegedly being kept in similarly poor surroundings were seized from the Laurelwood Pets store in San Mateo. Humane Society officers are also currently wrapping up investigations into the deaths of several thousand turkey chicks on a cross-country flight, meant for a commercial breeder in Fresno.
Punishment for felony convictions has ranged from time in county jail to time in state prison, Maya said. A man who strangled a dog with a wire hanger and then hit it with a mallet was sent to state prison for several years. A man who killed a dog with an axe after it displayed aggression toward his girlfriend spent eight months in county jail. Another man who let his aggressive dog off the leash, resulting in the maiming of a cat, spent a year in jail.
"People are coming to realize that animal cruelty is a crime and that it’s being taken seriously in San Mateo County," DeNardi said.
The PHS budget is $8.4 million, which comes almost equally from community donations and county funds, president Ken White said.
The county used to almost entirely cover the $150,000 annual tab for investigative work, but PHS has absorbed all the funding for that work this fiscal year through private donations after a mutual decision between the two parties.