Officer Gene Boros, an animal cruelty investigator with the Toledo Humane Society, recovers a cat that was abandoned with two other cats and a dog.
The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Next week: A look at the group Maumee Valley Save-A-Pet.
Sometimes, the atrocities people inflict on their pets are shocking, even to Gene Boros.
As an animal cruelty investigator for the Toledo Area Humane Society, Mr. Boros has seen just about everything when it comes to animal abuse and neglect. But some cases stick with him long after his shift is over.
There are the dogs and cats he's found dead inside the rooms of abandoned homes, dead because their fleeing owners locked them in there without food or water.
There are the skeletal dogs tethered their entire lives to a chain, so neglected that their collars have grown into their necks, creating a maggot-infested wound.
There are the homes of hoarders where dozens of dirty, sickened animals mill across floors covered in feces.
And there are deliberate acts of violence, such as the mother who, in a fit of rage, slammed her family's Chihuahua into the ground, killing it on impact.
"If you've never done this job before, you just don't realize some of the things that are going on every day. You don't realize some of the things people can do to something as innocent as a kitten or a puppy," Officer Boros said. "It just opens your eyes."
For the last seven years, Mr. Boros has patrolled the streets of Toledo investigating reports of animal mistreatment, confronting owners who fail to take proper care of their pets, and rescuing animals that fall victim to human callousness.
He and fellow officer Nancy Schilb investigate about 20 reports to the Humane Society's Cruelty Hotline a day, although they often receive significantly more reports during very hot or cold weather.
When Mr. Boros climbs into his "Cruelty Division" truck each morning, he never knows what to expect that day. His cases can often read like a list of reports about malnourished dogs, but once he hits the road, what he finds varies wildly.
"Take a call like 'skinny dog.' It could be that they overexaggerated. It could be that you get there and the dog's thin, but it's fine," Mr. Boros said as he began a recent shift by plotting his route on a map in his truck, surrounded by boxes of dog biscuits.
"Other times you get out there and the dog's just skin and bones and in terrible shape. You just never know."
On this particular day, Mr. Boros had 11 calls to look into on his designated patrol area of northern and eastern Toledo and Lucas County.
They included two reports of dogs left outside with no water or shelter, accusations that a man in East Toledo was not feeding his dog properly, a follow-up on three cats and a dog abandoned in an apartment after the tenant ran off without paying the rent, an account of a possible hoarding situation, and a report of a man seen kicking a puppy outside his home in North Toledo.
Almost all of the calls came in anonymously, which Mr. Boros said is the norm. Most reports are from neighbors who fear retaliation if they are found out, he explained.
At the first home, a leash tied to a tree in the yard was the only evidence Mr. Boros found of the dog left outside. No one answered the door, so he posted a card with a message asking the owners to call him.
Similarly, at the second house, the dog was inside. The residents, two young women, insisted the animal was well taken care of.
Even when he finds no immediate evidence of abuse or neglect, Mr. Boros said his visit puts a pet owner on notice that actions are being watched.
It's also an opportunity to provide guidance to people who are uninformed about pet care. Some don't even realize there are laws governing the treatment of animals, he said.
On this day, Mr. Boros only leaves the house after imparting guidelines for keeping a dog outside: Don't put a dog out for more than an hour at a time without proper shelter or access to water; apply pet-approved fly spray if the dog will be out for extended periods.
"You still have the option to educate them. They may not be putting the dog out all the time, but at least enough that somebody called," he said afterward. "Sometimes you have to educate them and show them and tell them the proper way to keep a pet."
Most of the other cases that morning were equally uneventful, requiring Mr. Boros to paste notices or messages on doors because the owners were not there or did not want to answer.
But Mr. Boros sprang into action once he reached the home of the abandoned pets on Collingwood Boulevard.
Property manager Dennis Vitosky met Mr. Boros in the parking lot and hurriedly ushered him into the apartment, which was covered in feces and smelled of cat urine. Three cats -- two adults and a kitten -- were curled up on a beaten couch, and a small Pomeranian dog was running around in circles.
"I've been feeding them every day. They're not going without food," Mr. Vitosky said.
After hauling portable cages into the apartment, Mr. Boros stooped to gently pick up the animals and put them in the crates so he could take them to the Humane Society. Without Mr. Vitosky's care the animals might have perished, he added, something he has witnessed in other abandonment cases.
Tracking the perpetrators of these crimes to their new addresses can be difficult, Mr. Boros said. If he does find them he may press animal abandonment charges against them. The second-degree misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and a $750 fine, he said.
The downturn in the economy has led to an increase in animal abandonment problems, Officer Boros noted.
Many people are losing their homes to foreclosure or find themselves unable to pay the rent after losing a job, so they move and leave their pets behind. Others live in increasingly impoverished conditions and their animals suffer the consequences.
"There are a lot of out-of-work people out here," Officer Boros said, as he drove through East Toledo. "A lot of times you'll find that the people aren't living in any better condition than their animals. It's hard for them to take care of themselves, let alone a dog or a cat."
On some of the calls Mr. Boros makes to investigate animal cruelty cases, he finds evidence of elder abuse or child neglect too. He said he's found children living in squalid conditions, with no food, heat, or adequate clothing, and passed on the information to Lucas County Children Services. Other times malicious child abuse or domestic violence is occurring in the home where an animal is being abused too, he said.
Experts maintain there is a strong link between animal abuse and violence toward humans. Numerous studies show perpetrators of animal cruelty often have convictions for other violent offenses, particularly domestic abuse, said Phil Arkor, coordinator of the National Link Coalition, a network of organizations working to promote awareness of this correlation. Violence toward animals often begins during childhood and spirals into violence toward people later in life, he said.
"People need to take animal abuse cases seriously," Mr. Arkow said. "If you devalue an animal it's very easy to begin devaluing other people. If you don't respect others, whether that other has two legs or four legs is often a matter of convenience."
Humane Society investigators are often in a unique position to see domestic abuse, Mr. Arkow continued.
Neighbors are more likely to report violence toward animals than violence toward people, because they realize the animals cannot speak for themselves, he said.
Animal abuse is also more likely to take place in public view, he added.
Jason Wegman, a caseworker with Lucas County Children Services, said animal abuse and domestic abuse often arise from the same psychological dysfunction.
"The same people that abuse their children or their spouse are the same type that abuse their animals," Mr. Wegman said.
"It's the need for that power and control over people that are smaller than you in stature, or somebody you know will back down."
Cary Brown, manager of assessment at Children Services, said her agency works closely with the Humane Society, cross-training their staff and sharing information about cases of abuse and neglect.
"We have to have that relationship," she said. "In essence we're dealing with the same families."
Officer Boros, meanwhile, said that although some of the situations he deals with are heartbreaking, he wouldn't change jobs. He originally trained to be a police officer but applied for the Humane Society position on a whim and hasn't looked back.
"It's just a pleasure to get an animal out of a bad situation and into a better situation," he said. "Seeing how mean people can be, you kind of lose your compassion for people and gain more for the animals. I think I'd rather work for the animals."
To contact the Cruelty Hotline at the Toledo Area Humane Society call: 419-891-9777 or email cruelty@ToledoAreaHumaneSociety.org.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.