America’s Top 10 Animal Defenders
District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett
Since 2002, Jonathan Blodgett has served as the elected district attorney of Essex County, Massachusetts. During his tenure, DA Blodgett’s office has prosecuted numerous animal cruelty cases. In December 2013, his office argued a case before the state Supreme Judicial Court, Commonwealth v. Heather Duncan, in which police responded to a report that two dogs were frozen to death in the yard and a third emaciated dog was barking, out in the cold, with no food or water. Because the officers could not locate the owner, they used bolt cutters to enter the fenced-in property to rescue the dog. The case is currently before the state’s highest court to determine whether the police needed a search warrant to enter the property to save the dog. DA Blodgett has garnered support from a broad coalition of law enforcement and animal groups for his position that animal lives are worthy of police protection in an emergency. The high court is expected to rule in the spring.
DA Blodgett has received the “Humane-itarian Award” from the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) at the Massachusetts School of Law. In addition, his staff has lectured about animal cruelty prosecution and forensics at law enforcement conferences and at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
DA Blodgett was recently elected by his fellow district attorneys to serve a second non-consecutive term as President of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. He is also vice president of the National District Attorneys Association and a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance. He is a 1976 graduate of Princeton University and a 1983 graduate of Suffolk University Law School. He lives in Peabody with his wife Judy. They have three children and two grandchildren.
Sheriff Tom Dart
As Cook County, Illinois sheriff, Tom Dart has brought an aggressive yet innovative approach to law enforcement. A former prosecutor and state legislator, Sheriff Dart has long fought for the rights of others and protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. In 2009, Time magazine named Sheriff Dart one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, thanks to his groundbreaking efforts.
Under Sheriff Dart’s direction, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office founded the first Animal Crimes Unit in the county. They receive over 100 calls a year on various crimes including dogfighting, horse cruelty, and mistreatment of pets. In February 2011, the Sheriff and his unit shut down a Tinley Park nonprofit, no-kill “sanctuary” where dozens of animals were found in unsanitary and unheated conditions, including ones that had died from their inhumane living environments. In December 2012, the unit disassembled a large dogfighting ring in Dolton that resulted in seven recovered dogs who were severely hurt or bitten and eight men charged with class four felonies. The United States Humane Society honored Sheriff Dart and the Animal Crimes Unit with the “2009 Humane Chicago Award.”
As a prosecutor, he helped initiate a massive public corruption investigation in the poverty-stricken village of Ford Heights, which led to the indictments of multiple police officers. As a state legislator, Dart sponsored hundreds of bills that demanded accountability from state officials, while also showing a willingness to take on state bureaucracy. He re-wrote child welfare bills, wrote the state’s Sexually Violent Predators Commitment Act, and led the state’s first-ever study connecting homelessness and prostitution. Since becoming Sheriff in 2006, he has introduced sweeping changes at the Cook County Jail (the nation’s largest single site jail), aggressively restructured the Sheriff’s Police force, and improved operations of the Court Services Department. Sheriff Dart and his wife Patricia live on Chicago’s South Side. They are the proud parents of five young children and share their home with a puppy named Rolly.
District Attorney John Haroldson
John Haroldson has been Benton County, Oregon district attorney since 2007. Prior to this appointment, DA Haroldson served as Benton County’s chief deputy district attorney beginning in 2002. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Central Washington University and a doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of Oregon, and is a member of the Oregon and Washington State Bar Associations.
DA Haroldson has a broad range of experience prosecuting animal cruelty crimes, including cases involving intentional acts of violence, animal hoarding, and neglect of farmed animals. For Haroldson, each animal cruelty case is a reminder of the vulnerability animals have when they look to humans for care. In a move that benefitted Oregon’s animals and 36 elected district attorneys, Haroldson secured a three-year grant from ALDF to fund a full-time prosecutor, whose sole responsibility is to prosecute animal cruelty cases, and provided a home base for the animal cruelty prosecutor at the Benton County District Attorney’s Office in Corvallis, Oregon. The dedicated animal cruelty prosecutor is eligible for appointment as a special deputy district attorney by any elected district attorney who needs an animal cruelty case handled. “This new statewide prosecutor will handle every type of animal cruelty case—from juvenile offenders who kill a neighbor’s cat to organized dogfighting rings and subsequent racketeering prosecutions,” said Haroldson. “There is now no reason why any viable animal cruelty case should go unprosecuted in Oregon.” Haroldson and his wife Maria share their home in Corvallis, Oregon with their rescued companion animals Chica, Itza, Harley, Marv, and Bitty.
Deputy District Attorney Jean Kunkle
Jean Kunkle has been deputy district attorney of Marion County, Oregon since 1988. She is the manager of the Domestic Violence Team, which consists of six outstanding attorneys responsible for the prosecution of crimes involving domestic violence, animal abuse, and neglect. Her team is committed to holding offenders accountable for their crimes, and assisting victims of crime—whether human or animal. She recently gained convictions against a defendant charged with the neglect and starvation of sixteen horses, and the defendant was sentenced to two years in jail.
She has been a legal instructor at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training since 1998, where she instructs new police officers on Oregon laws regarding animal abuse and neglect. She served on the Board of Directors for the Willamette Humane Society and is an enthusiastic supporter of The Pongo Fund and Fences for Fido, as well as other animal welfare organizations. She has been a member of the Oregon District Attorneys Association Legislative Committee and has worked with community partners to pass legislation regarding animal abuse and neglect.
As an adult, her first companion animal was a very shy dog seized in an animal neglect case involving serial hoarder Vikki Kittles. Jean currently works to maintain alpha status with Winnie, an adorable yet often naughty Jack Russell/beagle mutt.
President of the APA David LaBahn
David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), has provided critical leadership in the prevention and prosecution of animal cruelty and fighting. The APA has provided prosecutors, allied criminal justice partners, animal behaviorists, and animal welfare advocates with the training and resources necessary to raise awareness about the connection between animal abuse, domestic violence, children exposed to violence, elder abuse, and gangs.
David has been at the forefront of increasing public information and data used by law enforcement in animal cruelty cases. The APA continues to develop training and resources for prosecutors through activities such as annual national conferences, training webinars, and the Lex Canis newsletter. The APA has also provided local prosecutors with over 2,000 animal law summaries and provides technical assistance to prosecutors around the country in hundreds of animal cruelty cases. The development and success of these initiatives show that David LaBahn has performed outstanding work in making communities safer for animals and humans alike.
District Attorney Josh Marquis
Josh Marquis is the district attorney for Clatsop County, Oregon. In 1995, Josh received ALDF’s “Jolene Malone Aggressive Enforcement Award” in recognition of his work on a notorious animal abuse case involving Vicki Kittles, who was convicted of animal hoarding. In 2006, he was the recipient of the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation’s William J. Schaefer Award.
Josh has traveled the country speaking to law enforcement groups and worked with them to help pass Oregon’s felony animal cruelty law. He also served on the board of ALDF for more than ten years, advocating for stronger enforcement of anti-cruelty laws and more humane treatment of animals. Other contributions Josh has made to animal protection include serving on the advisory panel for the National District Attorneys Association Center on Prosecuting Animal Cruelty, speaking at ALDF conferences at Yale University, and judging the animal law moot court competition at Harvard University. He is also the former president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, Oregon’s delegate to the National District Attorneys Association, and NDAA’s representative to the International Association of Prosecutors.
More recently, Josh has been a speaker at universities and professional meetings and a guest on radio and television programs, discussing the criminal justice system. Josh and his wife live in Oregon.
District Attorney Vic Reynolds
Vic Reynolds is the district attorney of Cobb County, Georgia, where he manages a staff of 115 people, including 40 assistant district attorneys. During his first year in office, several incidents of animal abuse occurred which inspired him to start an Animal Abuse Unit dedicated to seeking justice for the abused animals and to send a clear message that this behavior would not be tolerated in his county. He assigned two of his assistant district attorneys to prosecute these cases. Vic also charged his prosecutors with using forfeiture statues to make sure the abused animals were permanently removed from the perpetrators and eventually made available for adoption.
The Unit has been successful during the early stages of its creation. There have been several indictments handed down charging defendants with felony animal abuse. The Unit has also been successful in convincing judges to forfeit animals and to issue court orders prohibiting the perpetrators from being able to retrieve the abused animals. Several of the animals have now been placed with loving adoptive families. Vic is married to Holly and they have two grown daughters. Vic’s youngest daughter, Mackie, a college student, has previously volunteered for Mostly Mutts, a local animal rescue group. He and Holly reside in Marietta, Ga. with their labs, Cooper and TJ.
Deputy District Attorney Belinda Smith
Belinda Smith is a former assistant district attorney with the Harris County, Texas District Attorney’s Office with a life-long passion for animal protection. Belinda’s determination to see basic fairness applied to all living creatures led her to this position. In 2006, Belinda convinced her supervisors to allow her to specialize in prosecuting animal cruelty; soon the Harris County District Attorney’s Office became Texas’ first prosecutorial agency with a unit dedicated to animal cruelty prosecution. Belinda retired in 2013, but during her tenure she prosecuted high profile cases including Operation Dead Game, a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional undercover dog fighting sting. This sting resulted in numerous arrests and convictions and it was the impetus for state legislators to change Texas law and increase the penalties for dog fighting. Recently, Belinda filed felony charges in Texas’ first animal “crush” video case, which is currently pending in state district court.
In addition to prosecuting cases, Belinda is committed to community outreach, and in her career she trained law enforcement officers and animal control officers throughout Texas. Belinda is active in the Houston legal community, where she co-founded and chaired the Houston Bar Association Animal Law Section. Belinda also appeared on Animal Planet and episodes of “Animal Cops Houston”. She lives with two dogs, whom she met while performing her duties as a prosecutor: Jimmy John, a Terrier mix who was nursed back to health after near fatal injuries, and Ginger, a Poodle mix who was rescued by the Houston city shelter.
Council Member Peter Vallone Jr.
Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr. represented Astoria, New York and served as chair of the Public Safety Committee. In 2013, he successfully initiated a measure whose recent passage will make New York City the largest jurisdiction anywhere to be protected by an animal abuser registry. The impetus for this city registry came after Astoria bodybuilder Milan Rysa threw his dog out an apartment window (he was convicted for this act of cruelty). Vallone wanted to ensure something like this could never happen again. ” Our shelters are doing an excellent job of trying to keep animals safe, but they have no way of knowing if they are handing a puppy off to a violent criminal—my registry fixes that problem.”
He has been honored for his work to protect our most vulnerable, which includes awards from the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City, the Immaculate Conception Youth Program, the League of Humane Voters, and numerous other organizations. Another of his lasting visible legacies is a law requiring that all new roll-down security gates be see-through. As foreboding solid gates are phased-out, canvasses for graffiti are eliminated and replaced with a vibrant streetscape.
An accomplished athlete, Vallone was invited to play against the Chinese national ping pong team on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and is also a professional musician, an avid scuba diver, and is often seen riding his motorcycle or bicycle around Astoria, where he was born and raised. He has two daughters, Catherine and Caroline.
Jane Velez-Mitchell is an award-winning television journalist, a bestselling author, and the host of her own cable news show on HLN. As an expert commentator on high-profile court cases, Jane regularly appears on CNN, HLN, omg! Insider, TRU TV, E!, and Dr. Phil, and has also served as a guest host for Nancy Grace. In 2010, Jane’s HLN show garnered a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States, her third. She has also received a Los Angeles Emmy Award and a New York Emmy Award. In 2010, she was awarded the Ruby Award by Soroptimist International, for her coverage of missing women and children. Jane has covered the biggest trials of the last two decades, from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Jodi Arias trial. She is also the bestselling author of Secrets Can Be Murder: What America’s Most Sensational Crimes Tell Us About Ourselves, and Addict Nation: an Intervention for America.
Jane has done extensive reporting on animal issues like the dolphin hunts in Japan and Wisconsin’s war on wolves, as well as important cases led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, like the animal abuser registry, the dangers of leaving animals outdoors in extreme weather, and problems with over-crowded animal shelters. On her news show, Jane’s rescue pup Rico joins her every Friday for Rico’s Rescues, where Jane helps connect rescued animals with forever homes. In fact, every day she features the “Pet of the Day” sent in by viewers across the country. She is a tireless advocate, vegan, and animal hero, always lending her voice to important topical issues in the animal protection movement, and never afraid to speak her mind.