SEATTLE - An alarming increase in animal cruelty cases in Seattle are being reported during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Seattle Animal Shelter said the number of severe animal cruelty cases so far in 2020 has doubled compared to previous years combined.
The shelter’s team members are carefully nursing more than 220 animals back to health that were rescued from a West Seattle home. The shelter’s director said it was one of the worst cases of neglect they handled.
The City Attorney’s Office helped the shelter develop an animal cruelty investigation against the property owner. Victoria VanNocken is a supervising attorney in the criminal division and said she approved the search warrant of the property thinking only a few animals were in danger.
“We originally thought we were probably looking at a misdemeanor case. So, I approved the search warrant and thought probably in the next couple days after [officers] did their investigation, I would get the case for filing. And then when [officers] got in there and actually started searching the buildings that belong to this person, they found way more evidence than anyone had anticipated. So, then it became a felony case,” said Van Nocken.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office is handling the case since the property owner is facing felony charges. He is being held at King County Jail on a $7,500 bond. A judge agreed on the prosecution’s condition not allowing the man to be around animals and found probable cause for first-degree animal cruelty.
Along with the live animals found in cages stacked on top of each other, several more skeletons were discovered across the property.
Officials at the shelter said they are seeing an increasing number of severe cases this year that require criminal charges from city and county prosecutors. They explained the average number of severe cases over the past five years is 12. In the past 10 months alone, the shelter has had 27.
“It is heartbreaking for all of these animals,” said VanNocken.
VanNocken said what happened to the animals caged in West Seattle shines a light on a troubling issue her team is working to address.
“People that hoard animals and they just keep taking more and more and more animals and can’t properly care for them. There’s just no way if you have 200 plus animals and you are one person that you are going to be able to give all of the time and attention and care to those animals. There’s just no way that you can do that,” said VanNocken.
Had it not been for a community member who saw something suspicious at the West Seattle home and reported it, officials at the shelter said the animals could have remained in the unhealthy conditions. In an effort to slow the concerning amount of cruelty cases, VanNocken urged everyone to speak up.
“If you see something and it’s just not right or you see outright abuse then say something. Make that call to 911. Let these investigators, and they are truly amazing investigators (my personal heroes), let them take over the investigation because you just never know what it’s going to lead to,” said VanNocken.
The supervising attorney mentioned she is part of a program called FASCET, the Family and Animal Cruelty Enforcement Team. It was created in 2019 in partnership with VanNocken, a trial prosecutor and domestic violence advocate.
VanNocken said FASCET was started because of a direct correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence. She said out of all the animal cruelty cases filed at the city attorney’s office between the years 2008 to 2018, 72% of the cases had domestic violence history.