When law enforcement investigates a report of livestock neglect, what should the officers and deputies look for?

To help answer that question, University of Minnesota animal agricultural specialists and an attorney whose focus is companion animal law, conducted a day-long continuing education course for the Minnesota South Central Investigators Coalition (MSCIC).

The 32 attendees were primarily peace officers and certified county humane agents from south central counties, plus officers from the northern Minnesota counties of Lake and Cass.

Minnesota Pork Board Assistant Executive Director Jeremy Geske said when he approached the MSCIC with the idea of an educational program addressing farm animal neglect complaints, he received an “overwhelming yes.”

“Animal neglect investigations are difficult for most peace officers because they lack any background or training in animal agriculture,” Geske said.

The two primary program goals were:

  • to improve consistency in the handling of animal neglect and abuse complaints by providing basic information on what is normal and abnormal farm animal behavior, how to determine healthy and unhealthy body condition, and evaluating shelter, food and water availability.
  • to provide investigators contact information for unbiased and credible experts to serve as resources.

“It is difficult to expect a sheriff or deputy to make an important judgment call on animal neglect without having experience,” Geske said. “They may sense that something might not be right, but without some type of background, it is hard to make an evaluation.”

Presentations were given on goats, llamas and alpacas, poultry, beef, dairy, equine, sheep, swine, and companion pets. Dr. Mark Whitney, U of M Extension Swine Educator, gave the swine presentation.

Speakers used photographs to illustrate body condition, feeding and watering systems, and shelter, and led discussions on animal behavior, death rates, and the effects of illness and age on livestock appearance. Attendees said having the contact information of the farm animal species experts will be a valuable resource tool for future animal neglect investigations. Because the peace officers found the program information useful, Geske said it may be repeated elsewhere in the state. “These folks are usually the first called when there are animal neglect complaints,” Geske said. “But problems can arise for the investigators when they are unfamiliar with livestock.”

Source: Minnesota Pork Board