National Justice for Animals Week Top Defenders
Animal cruelty cases are complex, requiring determination, creativity, and persistence. Each year for National Justice for Animals Week, Top Defenders are selected for addressing animal cruelty in their communities, despite the challenges they encountered in doing so. The accomplishments of these individuals collectively represent justice for animal victims of cruelty and an increased protection of this vulnerable population in the future. These professionals have gone above and beyond for animals this year.
2023 Top Defenders
Chris Jirak O’Donnell
Armstrong County Humane Police Officer | Kittanning, PA
Humane Police Officer Chris O’Donnell of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, helped create an action network of shelters across multiple counties to combat animal hoarding. Officer O’Donnell investigated more than 100 cases of animal neglect and cruelty in just one year, working with local law enforcement agencies, state police, and the Armstrong County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute offenders.
Executive Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor | Freehold, NJ
In her role as a Monmouth County prosecutor, Lori Linskey prosecuted a man for killing his girlfriend’s dog, and abandoning another, in order to emotionally manipulate and traumatize her. Linskey stated that taking animal cruelty cases in Monmouth County seriously is very important, and thanked the Asbury Park Police Department and the SPCA for their work and compassion for the victims in the case. The prosecution of this defendant by Linskey sheds light on how situations of domestic violence can include cruelty against animals, when abusers harm animals in order to manipulate or torment their human victims.
Executive Director, Licking County Humane Society | Heath, OH
Lori Carlson oversaw the rescue of 80 dogs and puppies who were being hoarded by three individuals in Licking County, Ohio. This was the largest rescue in the shelter’s history. The dogs had serious skin lesions, had not been spayed or neutered, and were covered in feces, urine, fleas, and garbage. Carlson put the word out in the local paper to solicit donations for the dogs’ medical care, including spaying and neutering, microchipping, dental work, and wound treatment, as well as necessary supplies. The response from the public was overwhelming.
Teaching Fellow, Animal Law Clinic, UConn School of Law | Hartford, CT
Tara Cooley trains and supervises law students who are court-appointed under Desmond’s Law — the nation’s first Courtroom Animal Advocate Program (CAAP) law — to advocate for justice in animal cruelty cases. Her tireless work on cases throughout Connecticut not only shows that courtroom animal advocates hugely benefit animals throughout the state, but also that CAAP laws could make a world of difference for animals throughout the nation.
Angela P. Carter
Farrier, Lady Shoer Inc. | Morganfield, KY
Angela Carter is a farrier — a professional who specializes in the care of horses’ hooves — who in September 2022 discovered and reported the severe neglect of a miniature horse and the death of another horse. These horses had been suffering for a prolonged period of time, with no one taking action on their behalf before Carter intervened. In reporting this neglect to authorities, she set an example for others in her profession, while sending the message that farriers are uniquely positioned to witness animal cruelty and have a duty to advocate for the equines they work with.
Felicia S. Raphael
Ulster County Assistant District Attorney | Kingston, NY
Felicia Raphael is an Assistant District Attorney with the Ulster County District’s Attorney’s Office in New York, where she is the chief of the Animal Crimes Unit. In this role, she assiduously pursues justice on behalf of animal victims of all species. In December 2022, Raphael secured the forfeiture of 40 starving sheep, ensuring that they will have the opportunity to be rehabilitated and live their lives in peace at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary.
Tracey A. Cusick
Norfolk County Assistant District Attorney | Canton, MA
Tracey Cusick is an Assistant District Attorney with the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. Cusick has spent her career advocating for victims of animal cruelty crimes and training other prosecutors and law enforcement officers to do the same. She has tackled complex cases, confronting novel legal issues exploring the legal status of animals under out criminal justice system. In 2022, Cusick continued her tireless work championing animal victims in several ongoing criminal cases.
Asset Forfeiture Team
U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of South Carolina | Greenville, SC
In September 2022, federal and state law enforcement officers executed the biggest takedown of a dogfighting operation in South Carolina’s history. The investigation resulted in the seizure of 305 dogs from various properties throughout six counties. Even after the dogs were seized, their “owners” still maintained their property interest in the dogs, meaning those dogs were being held in legal limbo while the dogfighting case continued. In order to ensure the dogs could be placed in rescue organizations and adopted out, they first needed to be legally forfeited. Over the next several months, the Asset Forfeiture Team for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of South Carolina, filed numerous civil forfeiture lawsuits under the Animal Welfare Act. Thanks to the diligent efforts of U.S. Attorney Carrie Fisher Sherard and the Asset Forfeiture Team, 297 of those dogs (and all puppies born to them following the seizure) were ordered forfeited and placed in animal rescues.
Anne Jordan Phinney
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney | Vancouver, WA
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Anne Phinney crafted the state’s argument in Washington state’s Doll case, which was ultimately successful in upholding as constitutional the trial court’s decision to permanently bar the defendant from possessing animals similar to his victim: Ebony, a neighborhood cat whom he deliberately shot with a .22 rifle, causing such severe injury that the veterinarian who treated Ebony ultimately administered humane euthanasia. Following a conviction for first-degree animal cruelty, the defendant argued that the animal possession ban included in his sentence amounted to a cruel punishment in violation of the federal and state constitutions. Phinney’s argument persuaded the appellate court that a lifetime possession ban fit the Washington State Legislature’s aim of reducing repeat incidents of cruelty; was proportional to — and fine-tuned to meet — the intentional and egregious nature of the criminal violence inflicted upon Ebony; and coincided with the state’s recognized ability to restrict relevant property rights in the face of criminal convictions. Phinney’s work in State v. Doll is not only impactful for animals in Washington, but will also help other states resolve in the affirmative a critical question that had previously gone unanswered: whether animal possession ban sentences can be lengthy (even lifetime) when proportionate to acts of cruelty. Further, Doll reaffirms that animal cruelty laws fundamentally exist “‘not to protect animals as property of their owners, but to protect animals as living, feeling creatures’, regardless of whether they are wild or tame” — a powerful statement, in which the appellate court directly quoted Phinney’s argument on behalf of animals.
California Fish and Wildlife Warden
In the course of an in-depth criminal poaching investigation, California Fish and Wildlife Warden Jon Diehl discovered an 81-inch-long white sturgeon dying in a suspect’s vehicle. Not only did Diehl conduct a thorough and effective investigation of this serious crime, but he also went above and beyond in his attempts to prevent the death of this particular fish. Diehl returned the fish to water and spent more than an hour providing lifesaving care to the fish. His actions are a testament to the gravity of these crimes, and set the bar for wildlife enforcement entities when it comes to comprehensive scene response in these cases.
2022 Top Defenders
Stephanie Kendrick of Honolulu, HI
Stephanie Kendrick has been the public policy advocate at the Hawaiian Humane Society for five years following a successful career as a newspaper journalist. She has embraced the transition from unbiased observer to that of advocate, strategist, and relentless promoter of a mission unabashedly close to her heart. In 2021, Stephanie created a comprehensive state legislative campaign resulting in the passage of three significant animal protection bills; a ban on animal sex abuse, restrictions on dog tethering, and a bill to provide liability protection for veterinarians while requiring them to report suspected animal cruelty. All three bills became law in the summer of 2021. There is still much room for improvement in Hawaii’s animal laws and Stephanie is committed to building on this progress.
Susan Norris of Urbana, IL
Susan Norris, DVM is a 2015 graduate from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois. She is working toward her Master’s in Veterinary Forensics at the University of Florida. She’s employed primarily as a general practitioner at Good Friends Animal Hospital in Urbana, but also as the county veterinarian in Champaign County. Her passion is shelter medicine with a focus on helping abused and neglected animals. She believes her role as a veterinarian is critical in being a voice for those animals so that abusers are held accountable and monitored in the future. She lives with four rescue animals—dogs Pudge and Charlotte, and cats Poppy and Dwight—and her husband Jeff and two stepdaughters Riley and Olivia.
Alyssa K. Rabulinski of Wheaton, IL
Assistant State’s Attorney Alyssa K. Rabulinski has dedicated her professional career to serving DuPage County in Wheaton, Illinois since 2014. During that time, she has fought tirelessly to obtain justice for victims of violent crimes. She currently works in a dual role as a senior assistant state’s attorney assigned to the gang unit and to the DuPage County Fire Investigative Task Force, which includes investigations into deadly fires, arsons, and explosive devices. Alyssa has also gained specific expertise in the area of holding animal cruelty perpetrators accountable for their crimes by advocating for victims of animal abuse in the investigation, charging, and prosecution of several high-profile crimes involving the abuse and neglect of animals. This includes the months-long investigation and charging of a deadly kennel fire in 2019 and two aggravated animal cruelty cases in 2020. In 2019, Alyssa adopted her rescued beagle, Finn.
Anglea M. Roff of Glenwood Springs, CO
Municipal Prosecutor Angela Roff works in many communities on the Western Slope/I-70 Corridor in Colorado. She has been a prosecutor since 2002 when she started her career in the United States Air Force as a JAG officer. Prior to moving back to Colorado, she served in Hampton, Virginia, and Tucson, Arizona. Angela was raised in the Alaska wilderness, surrounded by animals. It is her love for animals and tenaciousness as a prosecutor that translates to the successful prosecution of animal abuse cases in municipal court.
Nicoletta J. Caferri of Northport, NY
Chief of the Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in New York, Nicoletta J. Caferri has served as an assistant district attorney since 1992. Ms. Caferri investigates and prosecutes animal cruelty crimes, including animal fighting, animal hoarding, intentional injuring or killing of companion and wild animals, and gross neglect and abandonment of household pets. In investigating crimes against animals, Ms. Caferri works closely with detectives from the NYPD’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad and the ASPCA forensic veterinary staff, animal behavioral and fighting experts, and legal advocacy counsel. She has also contributed significantly to implementing New York City’s Animal Abuse Registry.
Pennsylvania SPCA Humane Law Enforcement Team of Philadelphia, PA
The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) has rescued animals from cruelty and neglect since 1867. The PSPCA rehabilitates animals medically and behaviorally, and places them with new, loving families. This is accomplished through the lifesaving efforts of our Humane Law Enforcement division, in-house shelter hospital, low-cost veterinary services, behavior and enrichment program, and humane education.
The Humane Law Enforcement program is the only operation of its kind in Philadelphia and across the 18 additional counties the PSPCA serves throughout Pennsylvania. Our officers enforce the cruelty laws of our state, providing high quality, compassionate care for the animals rescued and sheltered, with a responsiveness to community needs. The PSPCA’s extraordinary work benefits animals in need, pet parents, and residents throughout Pennsylvania.
2021 Top Defenders
Detective Vanessa Acosta and Dr. Carolina De La Garza, both of El Paso, Tex.
Detective Vanessa Acosta was instrumental in the formation of the El Paso Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Investigations Unit. She is also the founder of a nonprofit, Laws N’ Paws, dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of abused and abandoned animals in El Paso. Since 2017, Laws N’ Paws has rescued more than 200 animals, including a 9-year-old pit bull who was shot by his former guardian and additionally suffered two fractures to his front leg.
Working with Laws N’ Paws, Dr. Carolina De La Garza, a veterinarian at East El Paso Animal Hospital, oversaw his treatment. Fortunately, Dr. De La Garza was able to save his leg, and he has since made a full recovery. In her report detailing his injuries, Dr. De La Garza noted that “although animals are considered ‘property’ in the state of Texas … animals are sentient beings who can experience pain and suffering.” Thanks to Detective Acosta’s and Dr. De La Garza’s hard work and dedication, this affectionate dog was adopted into a loving home.
Haley Anderson, former executive director of Iowa Pet Alliance, and Colin Grace, director of legal and strategic initiatives at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa
Prior to 2020, Iowa was ranked second-to-last among U.S. states in terms of its animal protection laws. Haley Anderson, former executive director of Iowa Pet Alliance, and Colin Grace, director of legal and strategic initiatives at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, were instrumental in pushing for legislative change, crafting a bill—and ensuring its success—to overhaul Iowa’s badly outdated animal protection laws. The Community and Pet Protection Act dramatically improved and expanded protections for animals in Iowa, helping the state rise by 11 ranks on the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report for 2020 and making it among the most-improved jurisdictions in the country.
Robert Samuel Willett, deputy district attorney, Alamosa, Colo.
A former police officer, Robert Samuel Willett was inspired to make a career change in 2009, earning his law degree with the goal of making a meaningful impact for the powerless and marginalized. A lifelong animal lover and guardian to two previously abandoned rescue dogs, Willett takes seriously the concept known as The Link—the tendency of those who abuse animals to go on to harm humans as well. As deputy district attorney, he’s seen The Link borne out in cases he’s dealt with, from domestic violence to child abuse to homicide. “So when I see an animal being abused,” he says, “aside from my feelings of seeking justice for my fellow creature, I also look at any enforcement or prosecutorial action I can take as preventative action to help change the behavior of the offender and help avoid any potential future human or animal victims.”
Senators C.B. Embry, Jr., Morgantown, Ky., and Morgan McGarvey, Louisville, Ky., members of the Kentucky State Senate
For years, Kentucky was the only state in the nation that prohibited veterinarians from reporting suspected animal cruelty. This seriously hindered the state’s ability to hold animal abusers accountable and made it difficult for veterinarians to discharge their ethical duties. State Senators C.B. Embry, Jr., and Morgan McGarvey spearheaded a bill empowering veterinarians to report suspected abuse. It passed with bipartisan support in 2020 and is now protecting countless animals throughout Kentucky.
Tiffany J. Preston, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis, Ind.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany J. Preston is using her considerable legal expertise to secure justice under the federal Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act of 2019, in an egregious animal torture case that is inaugurating a new era of federal animal cruelty response. In her role, AUSA Preston also prosecutes white-collar fraud, public corruption, human trafficking, and child exploitation cases, and holds key positions on working groups dedicated to combating issues such as kidnapping and public corruption. She was previously Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and is also an accomplished legal educator who has taught at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the Chicago Bar Association College of Trial Advocacy, among others.
2020 Top Defenders
Representative Bruce Irwin Griffey, member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Nashville, TN, and Rebecca Davis Griffey, Assistant District Attorney General for Tennessee’s 24 Judicial District, Huntingdon, TN
When a nonprofit animal rescue organization’s ability to provide care to nearly 200 animals seized in a neglect case — including Chuck the duck — was threatened by an unconventional legal challenge, Tennessee Representative Bruce Irwin Griffey and Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Davis Griffey stood up for the animals, winning a key victory in Tennessee court. The animals’ legal owners challenged a “bond-or-forfeit” law that required them either to relinquish the animals to the state, or post a bond to cover for the cost of caring for the animals while legal proceedings were underway. Drawing on the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s position statement in favor of bond-or-forfeit statutes to craft an argument that prevailed in court, the Griffeys won a ruling reaffirming that this critical legal tool remains available to animals.
Judge Alison R. Ferrante, Gilbert, AZ
While serving as a prosecutor in Arizona, Alison Ferrante’s work long involved confronting cruelty to animals. Alison created a Phoenix-Tucson animal cruelty taskforce and served on the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Animal Cruelty Task Force, where she revamped the way Mesa City investigates animal cruelty. Alison has proactively undertaken efforts to improve local animal protection laws. In Arizona and beyond, Alison has also played a key role in educating animal control agents, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors about best practices for addressing animal cruelty through the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Alison currently serves as a Municipal Judge in Gilbert, Arizona.
Tim Woodward, Executive Director of Animal Rescue Corps, Stanley, VA
As executive director of Animal Rescue Corps, Tim Woodward focuses on large-scale rescue as a means of making the world a better place for animals — including Chuck the duck, and the nearly 200 other mistreated animals he was rescued with. Tim has made a critical difference in the lives of animals ranging from dog fighting victims, neglected farmed animals, and those threatened by natural disasters. By raising public awareness, improving animal resource infrastructure, and proactively engaging with local agencies, Tim and Animal Rescue Corps help prevent future suffering. In the face of escalating costs to care for Chuck and the other animals, Tim also worked with fellow Animal Defender honorees Rebecca Davis Griffey and Bruce Irwin Griffey to defend Tennessee’s bond-and-forfeit law, which will help future animal cruelty victims in the state.
James W. Glasgow, Will County State’s Attorney, Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, Joliet, IL
James Glasgow has tirelessly advocated for animals’ rights during his six terms as Will County State’s Attorney. In 1999, he authored a statute that legally defined the torture of animals and made the abuse of an animal a felony for the first time in Illinois’ history; the same legislation also mandated that defendants convicted of animal torture undergo a psychiatric evaluation. In 2019, James founded the League of Extraordinary Canines & Friends — a coalition of local and national groups and individuals who work in animal law or are involved in addressing animal abuse and neglect — and hosted a two-day training session to educate investigators and animal control professionals on how to identify and prevent animal abuse.
Senator Julie Raque Adams, member of the Kentucky Senate, Frankfort, KY
Senator Julie Raque Adams has served in the Kentucky state legislature for 10 years, first as a representative and now as a senator. In 2019, Adams sponsored Senate Bill 67, An Act Relating to Sexual Crimes against Animals. Prior to this bill’s passage, Kentucky was one of five states that did not criminalize the sexual abuse of animals. Senate Bill 67 also created several crucial sentencing provisions, including mandatory psychological evaluations of convicted offenders, and mandatory bans preventing offenders from owning or possessing animals for at least five years. This law is the first time psychological evaluations and possession bans have been incorporated into any of Kentucky’s animal protection laws, and Senator Adams’ bill signaled a monumental step forward in the way Kentucky addresses animal cruelty.
Judge Gale E. Rasin, Baltimore Circuit Court Senior Judge, Chestertown, MD
Judge Gale E. Rasin served on Baltimore City’s trial courts for more than 20 years, and currently presides over the Mental Health Court in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City as senior judge. Judge Rasin has been active with organizations devoted to combating animal abuse and neglect. She served on the Baltimore City Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, created judicial training programs on animal cruelty, and has lectured at the annual animal cruelty conference of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. In 2019, she was a fellow at the Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Program where she wrote a guide for trial judges on the subject of animal hoarding.
Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, former member of the New Jersey General Assembly and state Senate, Elizabeth, NJ
Former New Jersey state Senator Raymond Lesniak served as a New Jersey legislator for 40 years, in the General Assembly and state Senate. Senator Lesniak’s record is second to none in sponsoring and passing animal legislation, including the country’s first law banning the trade of ivory products. Senator Lesniak has continued his animal advocacy since leaving office, working to enact Nosey’s Law — prohibiting the use of elephants and other wild animals in traveling circuses. He has long worked to stop to bear hunts in New Jersey and is advocating for New Jersey to enact a Courtroom Animal Advocate Program (CAAP) law, to give legal voice to animal cruelty victims. Senator Lesniak founded the Lesniak Institute at Kean University, which teaches action-driven advocacy.
Stacie Aileen Haynes, executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, Cooperstown, NY
Stacie Haynes serves as the executive director of the Susquehanna Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SQSPCA). In February 2019, Stacie worked with her local district attorney and county sheriff to form the Otsego County Animal Cruelty Task Force. The SQSPCA is often on the front lines of enforcing animal protection laws, but such enforcement requires the collaboration of all relevant agencies and organizations. Haynes’ task force has already tackled several large-scale cruelty cases, including one case resulting in the seizure of over 100 farmed animals. The task force is also focused on education and will provide training for social service agencies on how to identify and report animal cruelty.
Casey Mundell, Deputy County Attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Phoenix, AZ
Currently assigned to the Special Crimes Bureau in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime Division, Casey Mundell handles all the office’s animal cruelty cases. Casey helped pass legislation resulting in more serious penalties for animal cruelty offenses and also helped to develop the Animal Cruelty Diversion Program — one of three such programs in the country that allow those accused of cruelty to participate in counseling in lieu of going through the court system. Casey is a member of the Arizona Professionals’ Cruelty Task Force, founding member of the Maricopa County Animal Cruelty Law Enforcement Task Force, and presiding chair of the Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Arizona.
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