Law Enforcement Officers Are My Heroes

Posted by Geoff Fleck, ALDF Attorney on May 7, 2012

I’ve long thought people misuse the term "hero." They use it to describe someone who has performed especially well, done a good job, or succeeded in accomplishing something. Most dictionary definitions seem to agree. I don’t think that’s what a hero is. To me, a hero is someone who risks personal harm or loss (physical, financial, societal) to do what he or she believes is right. It implicates at least the risk of sacrifice. For example, someone who saves a drowning child may or may not be a hero depending on whether or not he or she put herself in peril. Firefighters are heroes. People who defuse bombs are heroes.

Animal cruelty prosecutors and law enforcement officers are my heroes. They forsake the glamor and prestige of trying homicides and white collar crimes to defend voiceless and vulnerable non-human victims. This often comes with negative professional and financial consequences. Sometimes it even results in humiliation and ridicule. As a former prosecutor myself, how many times have I been asked, "Are you the doggy lawyer I’ve heard about?" How many times have judges summoned me into chambers to urge the settlement of my "Woof-Woof" case?

I recently had the honor of meeting a group of such heroes in Snellville, Georgia, when I spoke to members of various law enforcement agencies about animal cruelty and animal fighting investigations and prosecutions. These highly trained professionals were committed to the aggressive prosecutions of animal abusers despite negative peer pressure, a culture generally insensitive to animal rights, and some very unfortunate animal protection laws.* They blanched at the gory photographs I showed and proudly bragged about their personal animal rescue efforts. They included Lt. Tommy Taylor, the training officer for the Snellville, Ga., police department, his colleagues, and numerous representatives from the Gwinnett County, Ga., sheriff’s office headed by Sheriff Butch Conway who, among other progressive accomplishments, offers a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in dog fighting. These are my heroes.

Undaunted by the obstacles they face and the sacrifices they choose to make for the work they believe in, the heroes I met persevere. I hope some day the work they do is recognized as the essential work it is. I hope some day they no longer have to suffer for their brave beliefs. I hope some day, when they no longer have to make personal sacrifices, they no longer fit my definition of "heroes" and are, instead, given the recognition and respect they deserve for doing the valuable work they do.

*In Georgia, for example, an "animal"… shall not include any fish nor shall such term include any pest that might be exterminated or removed from a business, residence, or other structure. (Ga 16-12-4(1)) Since any creature "might" be removed from a structure, it’s arguable that Georgia protects nothing. Georgia also provides a plethora of affirmative defenses to animal cruelty. Nothing in the law prohibits one from "…defending his or her person or property, or the person or property of another, from injury or damage being caused by an animal"; or "injuring or killing an animal reasonably believed to constitute a threat for injury or damage to any property, livestock, or poultry." (Ga 16-12-4(f)) Conceivably, a reasonable belief your neighbor’s Chihuahua might dig a hole in your lawn would justify his summary execution. Is it any wonder that Georgia ranks in the bottom tier of the ALDF 2011 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings?

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