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April 2005
The Real Vegan Police
The Satya Interview with Kristi Adams

 

Kristi Adams
Photo of Kristi Adams by Richard Rehab

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), started by aristocrat Henry Bergh, was the first organization in the U.S. devoted to the prevention of cruelty to animals. In 1866, the ASPCA was given the legal authority to investigate and make arrests for crimes against animals.

Today the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement department (HLE) is the only authority in New York City solely devoted to investigating crimes against the city’s animal population—approximately 50,000 calls in 2004.

Kristi Adams, vegan, animal rights activist, and Special Agent for Humane Law Enforcement of the ASPCA joined the organization in July 2004. Her first rookie weeks of training were featured in recent episodes of the Animal Planet TV show, Animal Precinct, which follows on duty ASPCA Special Agents.

Prior to joining the ASPCA, Agent Adams worked as a veterinary assistant in an animal hospital and as an animal control officer in several humane societies, including NYC Animal Care and Control. She is the proud mom of two rescued pooches, Bruno a feisty pit bull and Brittney an ever-hungry rottweiler. Catherine Clynehad a chance to talk with Special Agent Kristi Adams about being a Humane Law Enforcement officer in New York City.

How did you get interested in working with animals?
Ever since I can remember I have loved animals. Growing up we had all types of critters, dogs, cats, goats, rabbits, ducks. My parents were a big influence. Before I was even born, my dad was a cop in upstate New York and he used to rescue dogs. Back then a lot of small towns didn’t have animal shelters and wayward dogs were usually euthanized in ways I don’t even want to think about. So dad would bring home the dogs he found during his shift and we would try to adopt them out—quite a few stayed.

Two of our goats were rescued from a horrible roadside zoo. We once rescued 13 rabbits on their way to slaughter, and spent a day fencing in part of the yard, complete with converted dog houses and a little wooden sign that read ‘Bunny Meadow.’ We also rescued wildlife, and when I turned 16, I received my wildlife rehabilitator license. We had a big barn and a section of it was converted into a ramshackle hospice. And at one time or another every bathroom in our house has been turned into a nursery—litters of baby squirrels, rabbits, a fawn, even skunks have all passed through the Adams house. And there is still nothing quite like going home to visit my parents and seeing all the critters, some of which I have literally grown up with.

It’s funny, a lot of people think I am this naive farm girl growing up on an animal sanctuary, but it all led me to become a very compassionate, liberal and progressive person. By growing up the way I did, I learned to identify and understand the suffering of others. All the animals we adopted, rescued, and rehabbed were our friends, our family. I mean we had chickens, and we did eat their eggs, but we never ate the chickens. People don’t realize that chickens can live to be in their 20s. I think we had the oldest chickens in the state.

What made you choose a career as a Humane Law Enforcer?
My passion for animal welfare. I became a vegetarian when I was 12 and a vegan at 15. And I have been an avid animal activist since elementary school.

The fact is, animals don’t have anyone to speak up for them. I began watching Animal Precinct from day one, and it has always been my dream job. I was simply amazed and thought they were the luckiest people to go out and investigate animal cruelty—to arrest people who abuse animals. I started taking all sorts of classes on animal rescue, and attended the University of Missouri-Columbia Law Enforcement Training Institute. I spent years working in veterinarian hospitals, and in various animal shelters as an animal control officer.

I have been working hard to get where I am today and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Of course there are things I don’t like about it. It can be frustrating. I feel the punishments should be harsher. Very rarely do people get jail time. But I feel I am now able to really help push for such changes.

What are the most common cases that you investigate?
Skinny dogs. People, for whatever reason—can’t afford it, can’t be bothered with it, or they feel the animal is simply not worth their time or money—starve their dogs. Those are the most common cases: emaciated, starving dogs. Hoarders, people who literally collect animals, are also very common. To follow that up is a range of things, from neglect and abandonment to the fighting of dogs or roosters to intentional physical abuse. It’s all a crime. Although regulations vary, I believe 31 states now have laws that make certain acts of animal cruelty felonies, while the rest are treated as misdemeanors.

Being a vegan animal lover, how do you deal with seeing the cruelty inflicted upon these animals?
I think that it makes my job harder because I see things differently than some of my co-workers—not that what they see is wrong or bad, I just see it differently. Especially when it comes to the farmed animals. I see cows, chickens, and pigs the same way I see dogs and cats—I won’t eat or wear a cat or a cow. I fully believe that all animals deserve to live free from harm, abuse and exploitation. I mean, this is more than saying we should treat animals well while we exploit them, or before we kill and eat them. It says animals have the right to be free from all human cruelty and exploitation. When I say rights, I am not talking about giving an antelope the right to vote in elections. I simply feel that animals have an interest in living, avoiding pain, and even in finding happiness; and they should have those rights.

I guess in a way I also feel that my compassion helps me—makes me a stronger person. It makes me want to go out there and fight even more to protect the animals.

I think the ASPCA is doing a good job in working with federal, state and local policymakers to strengthen and establish new animal laws. Today, animal cruelty is being taken more seriously, since it is now well established that cruelty to animals is frequently the precursor to violent forms of behavior against humans. New laws passed this year show a movement toward stricter penalties. For example, we just arrested this guy and seized 25 fighting roosters—which had missing combs, shaved chests and sharpened spurs—from the basement of his house. We found syringes, vitamins and antibiotics, which often are used to treat the cocks after they have been injured. He was charged with 15 counts of possession of fighting animals and he could face up to a year in prison for each count if convicted.

How do you interact with other New York law enforcement agencies?
As a whole I think we have a pretty good relationship with the New York Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. We usually rely on their assistance if we enter a scene and other criminal acts are taking place or if we need major backup. Remember, the NYPD has over 40,000 officers and we only have 20.

How are your powers different than the NYPD?
First of all, we are not a city agency; we are a private nonprofit organization funded through donations and such. We also have NY state jurisdiction giving us the right to handle anything in the state. We have the same ability to arrest that NYPD does, and really have all the same powers they do. If we need a search warrant, we go through the same process they do. We collect evidence, investigate crime scenes, and take photographs. Photos are one of the most important aspects of a case. The animals can’t speak so the photos help get the message out there—pictures are worth a thousand, a million words for the animals. We have a lot of people that do plead, but cases go to trial quite often and we usually win.

We just had a case where the guy got 30 days in jail—someone actually getting jail time is a huge step.

How does the ASPCA differ from the other animal shelters?
For example, I worked at New York City Animal Care and Control as an Animal Control Officer for nine months before joining the ASPCA. There we did more animal rescue—go out onto the streets and rescue the strays, pick up sick and unwanted animals. They don’t have arresting powers or the ability to investigate cruelty. Usually they refer those cases to us. We work with them a lot. They are a good organization—really moving up and heading in the right direction

Does the ASPCA euthanize animals?
We are actually putting a lot of time, money and effort into making NYC a no-kill city. We are opposed to euthanasia unless an animal is so injured and suffering that there is nothing you can do for them, or you have a highly aggressive animal who is unadoptable. I consider these circumstances of euthanasia to still fall under the no-kill label. Anyone who won’t euthanize a suffering animal or an extremely aggressive animal, who is going to sit in a small wire cage for the rest of their lives, is cruel. It is neglect. I wouldn’t want to live that way. My definition of no-kill is any adoptable animal will not be euthanized.

What are some challenging and frustrating aspects of your job?
The most frustrating cases I come across are the borderline cases. If you have a severely emaciated dog you can take immediate action. You can seize the dog, continue the investigation and hopefully prosecute. You actually feel like you are making progress, helping the animal and punishing the abuser. But with the cases that are considered borderline it is not so clear cut. Like this one case of a pit bull, who I have nick-named Parker. He is a good dog, a sweetheart, but he is 10 years old and lives in a car lot. He has a doghouse, food and water, and the guy comes by once a day to take care of him. But it is very minimal care—very borderline. The dog is aggressive towards most people, so if we were to take him, chances are he will be euthanized. I feel that these are the hardest cases. I don’t want to take him knowing that he will be killed. He may not have the perfect life, but who am I to say that he would be better off dead? And as long as he has shelter, food and water, and he is not starving, injured or in pain, there is nothing I can really do. I go and check up on him regularly. And I am in constant contact with his owner as well.

I mean of course there are cases when you’ll see animals with choke collars embedded deeply into their flesh, dogs who have been beaten to death, and cats that are intentionally poisoned—those cases hurt, but at least you can take action, do something.

What is it like being such a compassionate person and carrying a gun?
Well, I did have a difficult time when I first started gun training. I was nervous. I mean this was the first time I had ever held a gun in my hands—a gun! But I did get more comfortable with it as the training went on and I had a great instructor. I definitely feel safer going onto the streets by myself having a gun, not to protect myself against the animals, but the people. We don’t have partners unless you are going to make an arrest or are working the night shift, but let me tell you, some of the areas I visit are pretty bad, and having the gun training, and mace and things like that do add a sense of security. You feel more confident.

What has been your most rewarding case?
I can’t answer that. I think that all of my cases have touched me in a certain way. And it’s impossible to consider any of them rewarding. Of course I am thankful I get to help the animals out and prosecute the bad guys, but each case is a life. I know it may sound corny, but each life touches me. I have a spot for all of them.

Have your attitudes towards animals or humans changed since starting this job?
Oh yeah. My feelings toward animals have grown in a way that makes me feel more connected to their pain and suffering. It’s hard to get off work and just let things go—put their lives aside and accept the fact that I can’t do anything else. I can’t bring them all home or wait until tomorrow to get the paperwork needed to finish a case.

It’s funny, I have spent the greater amount of my life standing out in the crowd: protesting the cruelties of the circus industry, preaching against the wearing of fur, and talking ears off about the atrocities of factory farming. All animals are equal in my mind. I am not speciesist. If anything I was a bit biased on the part of companion animals, thinking that most of the time they had it made. But having to spend 12 hours a day looking at dogs, cats and other critters in miserable conditions has made me respect them and feel for them more. As far as humans go, well, my respect level for them has dropped even more so than it was. There are people out there who treat animals like they are objects, like they are nothing and I will never understand that.

What is it like being filmed on the job for Animal Precinct?
When I first started being filmed I was very nervous, but excited too. I couldn’t wait for the film crew to come out. As time goes on—I’ve been there about eight months now—you get more used to it, and you hardly notice they are there. I feel that Animal Precinct is a great program, it helps the animals, it helps the ASPCA, and it provides people with a lot of information. It gives people the courage to speak up and call someone for help.

What’s it like seeing yourself on TV?
Uhhh, the first time I saw myself on TV, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. I was very embarrassed and all I can say is that I am glad I have a good sense of humor and can laugh at myself.

How can someone get into this line of work?
If you want to get involved with working with the ASPCA and HLE, it is good to have animal experience at a vet, shelter, or some type of law enforcement. But I think most importantly, you must have compassion and respect for animals.

For more information on the ASPCA and Animal Precinct visit www.aspca.org.


 


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