District Attorney launches Suffolk County Animal Cruelty Task Force amid rise in abuse

BOSTON — Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office announced the first-ever Animal Cruelty Task Force for the county in an effort to help law enforcement refine its approach to investigating the troubling crime, which data shows is on the rise nationwide.

“Its purpose will be to investigate animal cruelty cases,” Hayden said. “To make sure that we’re implementing intervention and prevention strategies to prevent animal cruelty cases from happening in the first place and to hold people accountable for instances of animal cruelty whenever necessary.”

They were the halcyon days for dogs and cats awaiting adoption. During the pandemic, demand was so high for pets that shelters often ran short on animals.

Not anymore.

“I think that some of the people who adopted pets during the pandemic probably shouldn’t have,” said Neil Litvak, president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). “Or they were called back to work or suffered unexpected financial hardships.”

Litvak said that’s likely one of the contributors to a sharp rise in animal abuse cases in Massachusetts -- with the state trial courts reporting a 70% increase from 2019 - 2022.

“More and more we’re seeing people do cruel things to animals, often their own pets,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden. “And that’s what brought us here today.”

The task force also hopes to better understand animal cruelty cases -- such that it can make recommendations for potential legislative action.

“In the last five years alone, we have received more than 4,200 calls of suspected animal cruelty and have helped nearly 12,000 animals,” said Edward Schettino, a veterinarian and president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

While these numbers are staggering, Schettino said he’s hopeful that by working together the task force can protect even more animals in trouble.

Dan Gruber is a dog trainer at Golden Opportunities for Independence (GOFI), a Walpole organization that supplies Golden Retriever service dogs to individuals, schools and police departments. He was happy to hear animal abuse enforcement is getting an upgrade.

“They’re so kind, so gentle -- everyone loves them,” Gruber said. “You wouldn’t even consider looking at them the wrong way. I can’t even imagine abusing these guys.”

Gruber said dogs have emotions and personalities and, like abused humans, can be permanently scarred by violence, hunger or abandonment. He thinks the opposite is also true.

“We give some love to them, they definitely give back some love to us,” he said. “It’s unthinkable. I don’t even know how to begin to articulate my dislike for people who mistreat dogs. Make animal abuse just as bad as human abuse. It should be.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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