Cold cases: D.C. offers rewards in unsolved animal cruelty crimes

Animal control officers plaster the gruesome images throughout D.C. neighborhoods.

One flyer shows a paralyzed dog found in a trash can. Another pictures a cat someone set on fire. A third shows an opossum found stoned to death along with 10 newborn babies. Above each photo, investigators offer a reward for help catching the offenders.

These are only three of the District’s 11 unsolved animal cruelty cases.

Just like police search for new clues in a murder case gone cold, law enforcement officers at the Washington Humane Society seek evidence to put animal abusers behind bars. The District contracts with the non-profit group to provide animal control service in the city.

Michael Triebwasser, a law enforcement officer at the Humane Society, posted flyers in April around the Tenleytown metro station. They pictured a raccoon killed nearby in an illegal steel-jaw trap. The raccoon had chewed its leg as it tried to escape.

“No matter how often we see this, we’re still dazed and out of our wits,” Triebwasser said. “You always think, ‘How does this happen?'”

The raccoon case offers the highest reward of them all: $6,000. That’s from an anonymous donor and animal-welfare groups concerned about inhumane wildlife trapping.

Unlike murders, animal cruelty crimes in the District grab few headlines. Triebwasser said no one has received a reward yet for helping solve any of the cold cases. That’s because no tips have led to a conviction, he said.

Officers investigate about 100 to 120 reports of animal cruelty and neglect each month in D.C., according to Triebwasser. A felony conviction for animal cruelty comes with a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. A misdemeanor leads to jail time of up to 180 days and up to $250 in fines.

Although offering rewards for tips has proven fruitless so far, Triebwasser and other investigators have built successful cases against some serious offenders. He said they keep posting reward flyers to make people aware of animal abuse in their neighborhoods.

“At least, putting up flyers everywhere tells people about the issue,” Triebwasser said. “[Animal cruelty] happens every day of the year.”

For details about the District’s cold cases, click HERE.

Lawsuit stalls deer-shooting plan for Rock Creek Park

National Parks Service photo

The National Parks Service has put on hold its scheduled plan to shoot white-tailed deer next month in Rock Creek Park.

That’s because a group of animal activists and D.C. residents have filed a lawsuit against the federal agency for what they say is unnecessary, inhumane wildlife slaying in the capital’s largest park. In Defense of Animals and five local residents filed the lawsuit in federal court in October.

The Parks Service had hired USDA sharpshooters to thin out the exploding deer population. White tailed-deer are eating the park to the ground and preventing new trees and plants from growing, the Parks Service said in September.

It would mark the first time the Parks Service has allowed wildlife shooting in Rock Creek Park.

In Defense of Animals, a non-profit animal welfare group, claims that the operation will turn a “tranquil oasis”  into a “killing field.” It would deprive local residents of enjoying the park and also violates federal laws that give the Parks Service the task of conserving scenery and protecting wildlife within its parks, the lawsuit states.

“Authorizing killing wildlife will forever change the contemplative, peaceful setting and character of this unique and special place,” the lawsuit said.

In response, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a letter filed earlier this month that the Parks Service will put its plan on hold until a March hearing in the case.

Horse-mounted police to handle crowds on Inauguration Day

The U.S. Parks Police Mounted Unit will deploy all of its officers to handle the throngs of people expected to swarm the capital on Inauguration Day. They train and “bomb proof” their horses at Edgewater Stables in Rock Creek Park. Check out the audio report and photo slideshow.

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Supreme Court weighs credibility of police drug dogs

Photo courtesy of Suzukichick

Police have used dogs to track criminals for centuries. Now the U.S. Supreme Court must decide if police have gone too far with their drug-sniffing partners and violated privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.

Supreme Court Justices heard arguments Wednesday in two Florida cases involving police drug dogs in Miami-Dade and Liberty counties. In each case, a man was arrested after a drug dog alerted its handler to the smell of narcotics.

Both cases put into question whether a police search of a home or car is justified just because a dog smells drugs.

In Florida v. Jardines, justices must weigh weather it was legal for a Miami-Dade County police officer to walk his chocolate lab, Franky, up to a suspect’s front door in 2006 to sniff for drugs. Franky alerted police to the smell of marijuana, and they used that as probable cause to get a search warrant. Inside they found a marijuana grow house and arrested Joel Jardines as he tried to escape.

Jardines’ attorney, Howard Blumberg, argued Wednesday that the Miami-Dade police officer and his dog were trespassing and therefore performed an illegal search. It’s not the same as a neighbor walking up to your door with a dog on a leash, he said.

“Your neighbor’s dog does not search for evidence,” Blumberg said. “When a police officer comes to your door with a dog, there is no question about what that officer is doing. He is doing a search.”

In Florida v Harris, justices must decide whether a police dog’s nose is reliable enough to justify a search in the first place. No national standard for training or certifying a narcotics dog exists.

A Liberty County police officer pulled over Clayton Harris in a 2006 traffic stop in the Panhandle. The officer’s shepherd, Aldo, alerted him to the scent of drugs near the truck’s door handle and led them to meth ingredients inside.

Harris’ lawyer, Glen Gifford, said Aldo’s drug detection certification was expired, so his sniffing skills are questionable and therefore the search was illegal.

“Dogs make mistakes. Dogs get excited and may alert to tennis balls in the trunk,” Gifford told the justices. “You don’t have a dog that is reliable to establish probable cause.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said police officers have an interest in making sure dogs are well trained so they don’t waste time with false drug alerts.

“Why would a police department want to use an incompetent dog?” he asked.

The justices listened to each case for an hour Wednesday and will likely release their opinions in the coming months.

Pet-friendly shelters open as Hurricane Sandy approaches Washington, D.C.

Here is a list of pet-friendly shelters in the Washington metro area that will house pets during and after Hurricane Sandy. Washington, D.C., shelters are not currently accepting pets.

Montgomery County, Maryland:

White Oak Community Recreation Center, 1700 April Lane, Silver Spring. 240-777-6941 (people and pets)

Prince George’s County, Maryland:

Charles H. Flowers High School, 10001 Ardwick Ardmore Road, Springdale. 301-636-8000 (people and pets)

Fairfax County, Virginia: No shelters open yet

Prince William County, Virginia:

Dr. AJ Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Drive, Woodbridge. (people and pets)

Prince William County Animal Shelter, 14807 Bristow Road, Manassas. 703-792-6465 (pets only)

District of Columbia: No pet-friendly shelters open

Photos from the Washington International Horse Show

  1. The week-long Washington International Horse Show is back at the Verizon Center until Sunday. More than 500 riders and horses are competing for jumping, hunter and equitation trophies. Here are some photos from the show shared on Instagram.
  2. High school junior Hannah Showell used her saddle as a makeshift desk to get some work done behind the scenes at #Wihs @wihs
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 07:46:10
  3. Keep clam and trot on #barnight #WIHS #keepclam #horses #pink #black #2012 #amazing #fun #metro
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 12:04:55
  4. Happily in the big city �� #WIHS #primetime #horseshow
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 10:51:46
  5. Ready for Washington! #wihs #horseshow #primetime ��❤
    Thu, Oct 25 2012 03:17:12

D.C. shelter rescues dogs from South Carolina puppy mill

Photos by Alexia Campbell

These dogs are learning to trust humans again. The Washington Animal Rescue League took in about two dozen dogs seized last month from a puppy mill near Johnston, S.C. The local sheriff’s office arrested the owner on seven counts of ill treatment of animals, the Edgefield Daily reported.

The Humane Society, which helped investigate the case, asked the Rescue League to take some of the 250 animals seized in the raid. Many dogs suffered from eye infections, skin irritation and poor living conditions, said Matt Williams, spokesman for the Rescue League. Flies bit off the ear tips of one Siberian husky-mix that arrived with group Oct. 3 in Washington, D.C.

The shelter gets about one call a month to take in a group of animals rescued from out of state.

“The internet has been a boon to these puppy mills,” Williams said. “They can basically, in stealth, sell these puppies. Regulation is easy to skip.”

None rescued from South Carolina has serious health problems, he said, but many are terrified of humans. Shelter staff have been reading books to them as part of their behavior and socialization training. Most of the dogs in the group were used for breeding.

“All these dogs have to learn to walk on a leash and and not be afraid of people, get used to their voices,” Williams said.

Some of the dogs have passed the training and are ready for adoption. To view photos of the rescued dogs with their breeds and names, click here.

The Humane Society of the United States released this video of the September raid:

Lack of oxygen killed panda cub at National Zoo, necropsy shows

Mei-Xiang is recovering from the death of her cub last month at the National Zoo. National Zoo photo

The death of Mei Xiang’s newborn panda cub at the National Zoo a few weeks ago was a big deal here in Washington, D.C. Today, zoo pathologists released details of the final necropsy report, which says the week-old female cub had poorly developed lungs. The panda could not get enough oxygen to her lungs, according to a statement from the National Zoo. That eventually led to fatal damage in her liver and lungs.

Twenty-six percent of female pandas in captivity die within a year after they are born, the zoo said. Zoo staff is working with panda experts in China to find out how to improve that statistic.

On a brighter note, Mei Xiang is almost back to her old self. The zoo says her behavior and hormones have returned to normal. She also goes outside in the mornings and got her appetite back. She now eats most of her bamboo and leaf-eater biscuits.

The zoo just released a time-elapsed video of Mei Xiang building her nest. Check it out below.

Chimps retire to federal sanctuary after years of experiments

The National Institutes of Health is scaling back its use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. Photo credit: Dhammika Heenpella.

Some chimpanzees who spent their lives in federal research labs will soon get to spend their days monkeying around.

The federal government recently told The Washington Post that it will retire 110 chimpanzees used in biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health has used chimpanzees for decades in experiments to develop drugs and vaccines. The agency owns 563 chimps.

The development of new research technology means scientists don’t need to use chimps as much as before, the head of NIH said in December.

So where are these chimps going to spend the rest of their days? Well, 10 to 20 of them will go to the national chimpanzee sanctuary in Louisiana, called Chimp Haven, according to a spokeswoman from NIH. The other 100 will retire to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, where they will not be used in experiments. Chimp Haven doesn’t have room for more than 20 chimpanzees, NIH said.

Yet the sanctuary says that it can take in up to 50 more chimps if the federal government will pay $1.8 million to finish building some outdoor play yards, said Karen Allen, national advancement director for Chimp Haven.

The federal government established a national sanctuary for retired research chimpanzees in 2000 under the Chimp Act. The government funds 75 percent of the sanctuary’s operations, and Chimp Haven raises the rest of the money.

The chimpanzees, many of which are infected with HIV and hepatitis, don’t get the same level of freedom when retired to another lab, said Allen.

“Our sole mission is to take care of the chimpanzees,” Allen said. “We want to make sure whatever days they have left are as blissfully happy as we can make them.”

At Chimp Haven, 105 apes live on its 200 acres of largely wooded land. They can sleep in bedrooms, swing around in outdoor play yards or climb trees. Staff members help them adjust from the sterilized labs into complex social groups.

The staff brings in musicians, toys, children’s books and anything that will stimulate their minds, Allen said. The chimps also get fresh food from the sanctuary’s organic garden.

It’s unclear how retired life will be for the majority of chimps headed to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. A spokesman declined to give details and referred questions to NIH.

In an email, NIH wrote:

“Texas Biomedical has the specialized resources, experience, capacity, and funding mechanism to provide continued high-quality care for the chimpanzees.”

Shooters hired to reduce deer population in Rock Creek Park


The National Parks Service has monitored the exploding deer population in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.
National Parks Service photo

Expect fewer encounters with deer in Rock Creek Park. The National Park Service has hired government shooters to reduce the exploding number of white-tailed deer in the capital’s largest park.

It’s not because the deer are unwelcome, says Nick Bartolomeo, chief of resources management for the park, but because they are eating the forest.

“We barely have any regeneration of native trees and shrubs,” Bartolomeo said. “They eat it to the ground.”

Deer love to munch on native plants such as tulip poplar, red maple, dogwood and red oak seedlings, he said.

As part of the deer management plan, sharpshooters with the Department of Agriculture will begin shooting and euthanizing deer around January.

(Yes, the USDA has shooters trained to do this type of thing.)

The goal is to shrink the current population of 80 deer per square mile to about 20 per square mile in the next three years, said Bartolomeo.

The contract shooters will go out after dark in the winter months with night-vision gear, according to the plan. If needed, they may use archery or lethal injections. Staff will close down those areas to the public during the hunt.

The National Park Service got public input from nearby residents and animal advocates before choosing a plan of action. In the end, the agency decided that killing the deer was the only way to control the problem.

However, the National Park Service will consider using deer birth control on the female deer. But the only products on the market right now don’t meet the agency’s standards for effectiveness and safety, Bartolomeo said.

So the first step is loading up the close-range rifles with non-lead bullets. What will happen to the carcasses? Park staff will donate the meat to local food banks.

Read the full deer management plan for Rock Creek Park HERE.

“They shouldn’t kill the deer. They don’t bother me. I would move them somewhere else before killing them.” —Inna Tolmacheva, 29, Silver Spring, Md.

“I know that controlling deer in an urban area is a problem…so you have to do something. I’m sure [the National Parks Service] has made a good judgement.” —Bill Noonan, 50, Bethesda, Md.