SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigations: Happening Daily, Rarely Discussed
Investigation With Homeland Security, BPD Still Resonates with One SPCA Officer
June 12, 2023
By: SPCA Chief Communications Officer Gina Lattuca
It’s not a secret. Volumes of research point to the link between cruelty to animals and violence towards people. It’s no stretch, then, to recognize the reality of this fact: when SPCA Serving Erie County representatives work tirelessly to end animal cruelty, an impact is made on reducing overall violence in the community.
The SPCA’s efforts towards ending violence in Erie County are indisputably paramount, especially now, as the organization works to transform the model of animal sheltering, care, and protection, with community members playing a larger role than ever before. We all have a vested interest in making Erie County kinder, more compassionate, less violent.
This transformation puts an even brighter spotlight on the SPCA’s animal cruelty investigations. As with all law enforcement investigations, it’s nearly impossible to share with the public details as an investigation is taking place (which could negatively impact the investigation) or even after an investigation has taken place (which could negatively impact future investigations). Because we are not constantly sharing information on animal cruelty investigations, the fact that our officers are engaging in this work every day to help abused animals and keep our community safe can be forgotten.
Hundreds of animals are rescued annually by SPCA officers as a result of cruelty investigations, and speaking with the officers emphasizes the importance of the work being done. Visions of nighttime raids, doors being kicked in, and on-the-scene chaos compete with the reality of the investigation and the emotions experienced by cruelty officers when abused animals in appalling conditions are finally found…animals that can be saved by the SPCA, and especially animals who are past the point of being saved.
SPCA Officer Lindsey Wood described one extensive animal cruelty investigation that took place in February of this year, an investigation that involved not only SPCA Serving Erie County officers but members of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Buffalo Police Department (BPD).
“On February 3, the SPCA received a call from Homeland Security Investigations,” Wood explained. “That morning, officers had executed a warrant for narcotics at a Marion St. residence, and while they were there, they saw three dogs unproperly cared for, malnourished, with scarring.” As HSI officers arrested five people at the property, SPCA officers worked to obtain their own search warrant, allowing them to enter the property to check on the dogs.
By the time SPCA Officers Wood, Paul LeShay and Jennifer Maleskis arrived that afternoon, only one dog was on location. “The poor dog was in an old closet in the basement,” said Wood. “She was tethered to an old desk with a rusty, chain-link lead, only a foot or two long. There was no food, no water, and she was emaciated, dehydrated, covered with scars. Completely neglected.” The two other dogs seen earlier were nowhere to be found.
The investigation that ensued turned up information that the two dogs not located February 3 had been removed; there was a possibility that the dogs were residing at a May St. property, the home of a Marion St. family member. SPCA officers acquired enough evidence to obtain another search warrant, and on the evening of February 8, as approximately 12 HSI and BPD officers surrounded the house, Officers Wood and Maleskis, together with SPCA Officer William Heine and SPCA Agent Nicole Abrams, executed the warrant.
Six new dogs were found at the May St. property. “Two of the dogs were found outside in a garage-like structure, tethered to makeshift dog houses,” described Wood. “Another was left in a very small crate, one was chained on a two-foot lead in a hallway space that looked to be approximately three feet. Two additional dogs were located in the basement area, short-chained to old work benches.”
Also found at the scene? Two loaded handguns. The subject was arrested by BPD officers on firearms charges and the dogs were rescued, transported to the SPCA Serving Erie County infirmary.
Officer Wood, an 18-year veteran of the SPCA, has been involved in countless animal cruelty investigations and rescues. Seven dogs rescued from brutal, violent settings in the course of just six days should offer some peace of mind. Not for Officer Wood.
“I couldn’t get those two dogs still missing from Marion St. out of my head,” Wood shared. “I knew they needed help. I knew I had to find them.”
It was this drive that led Wood to continue the investigation.
After close review of footage from the warrant executions, information came to light that the two missing dogs may be found not in another home…not in a closet or basement or other clandestine location…but they may have been hidden in plain sight. They may have been brought to a public location, a location as public as the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter (CBAS).
On February 13, Officers Wood and Maleskis headed to the CBAS and found two dogs there that fit the description of the dogs HSI officers originally found on February 3. The dogs, like the dog rescued from the location, were also in poor condition, emaciated, and severely neglected. HSI officers confirmed that the two dogs were, in fact, the dogs they saw on Marion St.
At the time of this writing, all dogs were in the care of the SPCA Serving Erie County, and charges against the owners are pending, although the owners have already been incarcerated on the narcotics and firearms charges.
“Being able to help nine dogs, dogs who may have suffered painful, barbaric deaths otherwise, is a major achievement for the SPCA Serving Erie County,” says Wood. “In addition to helping the dogs, two illegal, loaded handguns were removed from the street, narcotics were removed from the street…it’s rewarding. We’re able to assist these poor dogs and help to make the community a little safer.”
Wood commends the HSI and BPD officers who assisted SPCA officers in the investigations, calling it a true picture of organizations coming together to help animals and people. “These are the tasks we can’t talk about every day. We can’t talk to friends or family, we can’t talk to people in the community, as we engage in these rescues and these investigations. It does become difficult, dealing with the emotional pieces of these situations, but we knew what we signed up for. This is what we work to accomplish. Outcomes like this are what make our daily sacrifices all worthwhile.”
The reality of the emotions experienced by officers engaged in animal cruelty investigations is a stark contrast to what some may imagine when they picture the scenes of such rescues. While the details usually cannot be publicly discussed, and while the emotions are typically kept private, they are all part of the SPCA Serving Erie County’s role in the community, part of making Erie County a true humane society.