This month we are celebrating Calgary Humane Society’s Protection and Investigations department! We know that most of our supporters are aware of the great work they do, but today on the blog, we wanted to bring you a sneak peek behind the scenes. We caught up with Officer Nichols, Manager of Animal Cruelty Investigations to find out more about what it means to be a Calgary Humane Society Protection and Investigations officer.
Q: What brought you to join the Protection and Investigations team at CHS?
A: Coming out of College, I got a practicum position doing animal control for a rural municipality. I have always loved animals and thoroughly enjoyed working with them on a daily basis. As soon as I found out that there were specific positions protecting animals from abuse and neglect, it became a career goal which I attained in short order, joining the team as a field officer in 2005 and investigating thousands of files. By 2008 I had been promoted to Managing the internationally recognized humane enforcement unit. I am very proud of what my team has accomplished over the years.
Q: Once a call comes in and a peace officer responds, what does the investigation process look like?
A: There is no simple answer to that question. Every investigation is different. An investigation can be a 5 minute conversation or a 100+ man hour complex investigation. Generally, we will attend the address of concern, assess the validity of the report and decide what path to take; education, compliance or enforcement (seizure/charges). If we take the enforcement route, further investigation must be done to establish care and control, the commission of the offense and obtain an expert veterinary opinion. Once charges are laid, the Crown Prosecutors’ office takes over the prosecution.
Q: A big component of your work is education, how does a peace officer decide when to provide education and when to take enforcement action?
A: Our job is 90% education. The media sensationalizes the severe cases, but most cases only require education on proper animal care in order to gain compliance.
Q: What is the most worthwhile part of your job?
A: Removing animals from bad situations. We are their voice. That is a massive responsibility that I do not take lightly.
Q: What is the most valuable thing that the public can do to prevent animal cruelty, abuse or neglect?
A: If you witness animal abuse, neglect or abandonment, report it to us for investigation by calling 403-205-4455. If you are located outside of the city of Calgary, report it to the authority that is responsible for enforcing animal protection laws in your area – outside of Calgary and Edmonton the Alberta SPCA would be who you would call.
Q: If someone from the public was going to work towards changing animal cruelty laws either provincially or federally, what change would produce the most impact or be the most valuable?
A: First of all, educate yourself on the existing legislation, the existing penalties and how those existing laws and penalties are enforced. The majority of people we talk to complain about sentences, wanting the maximums (the largest penalty that can be assigned for breaking that law) increased. It is important to realize that while a maximum penalty exists within the legislation, during sentencing a judge can choose to assign a penalty that is lower than the maximum. Our cases never get sentenced anywhere near the current maximums, so increasing fine amounts would be of no effect. Once educated on the weak points of the legislation, you can write to your local MLA or MP.
Q: Are there any common mistakes that the public make that complicate an investigation or make it difficult to prosecute a case? What are these common mistakes?
A: The biggest mistake we see is people taking the animal, rather than letting our investigation run its course. It is legal when we seize animals, on probable grounds, because we have legislation to support this authority. It is theft and trespassing when you do it. Another common complication is complainants filing a concern but then refusing to testify when the alleged perpetrator is charged. We cannot obtain convictions without proving our cases beyond a reasonable doubt and it can become difficult to do that if witnesses refuse to testify.
Q: Is there a particular case that meant a lot to you or brought you a lot of satisfaction when it closed that you could briefly tell us about?
A: The cases that come to mind are those that I have bonded with the animal while in our custody. I have adopted a few case animals over the years, so I am biased to those. My German Shepherd was seized from a grow-operation that we investigated as an alleged abandonment. I also enjoy watching my team succeed and so the Willow Park Muzzling case investigated by Officer Gibson is a definite career highlight due to the complexity of the case, the various investigative strategies employed and the ultimate arrest of the accused.
Interested in learning more about the work our Peace Officer do? Check out our website.