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HERRING HONORED BY NORFOLK SPCA FOR CREATION OF NATION'S FIRST AG'S ANIMAL LAW UNIT
~ In its two years, the Unit worked on more than 350 matters including trainings, investigations, and prosecutions ~
NORFOLK (February 11, 2017)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring has been honored by the Norfolk SPCA for the creation of the nation's first Attorney General's Animal Law Unit. In its first two years, Attorney General Herring's Animal Law Unit has worked on more than 350 matters across the state including groundbreaking trainings, complex investigations, and animal cruelty and fighting prosecutions. The award was presented at the Norfolk SPCA's 125th Anniversary event Friday night at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.
"It's so important that we enforce our laws on animal welfare and animal fighting because there is a strong link between crimes against animals and eventual crimes against people, as well as the associated crimes that come along with animal fighting like gambling, illegal drugs and alcohol, assaults and weapons crimes," said Attorney General Herring. "In its first two years our Animal Law Unit has been a real success and a source of support and information for law enforcement agencies around the state. I thank the Norfolk SPCA for this recognition, as well as the important work they've done in Hampton Roads over the last 125 years."
In January 2015, Attorney General Herring announced the designation of the nation's first Attorney General's "Animal Law Unit," a small group of current staff attorneys led by Senior Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch, an internationally renowned animal welfare prosecutor, who spend a portion of their time, as needed, serving as a resource for local law enforcement and state agencies on issues involving animal welfare and animal fighting or abuse. Because of the specialized and relatively infrequent nature of cases involving animal welfare, many prosecutors and law enforcement agencies seek assistance from the Unit in effectively investigating and prosecuting these cases. The power to initiate an investigation or prosecution remains with local agencies, but the Animal Law Unit provides assistance or handles cases by request from a commonwealth's attorney or law enforcement agency.
In its first year, the Unit worked on more than 200 matters, including criminal cases, trainings, and consultations and was recognized by the Animal Legal Defense Fund for its work. In its second year, the Unit has worked on an additional 180 matters. A signature case of Unit was the state/federal prosecution of the operators of the "Big Blue" cockfighting ring, which involved hundreds of birds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits in southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Operators of the pit were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 to 18 months and forfeited cash and assets connected to the ring. For their work on the case, Herring and Welch were honored with the Humane Law Enforcement Award from the Humane Society of the United States.
The Unit has also worked on multiple animal cruelty, animal fighting and animal hoarding cases and provided additional training on topics including police/animal encounters, the connection between animal abuse and domestic abuse, and even held the Attorney General's first statewide conference on prosecuting animal fighting
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