For several years now, thanks to the networking ability provided by social media, animal welfare advocates from around the world have been launching a frontal attack on the draconian policies and practices of the municipal animal control community. Activists attend board of supervisors and city council meetings, send emails, share photos and animal descriptions on Facebook, create YouTube videos and more to get their message out about the atrocities that plague both big-city and rural animal shelters around the United States and abroad.
But behind the scenes is where the real war is being fought. Quietly, private investigators, attorneys, veterinarians, journalists and activists are gathering evidence, building dossiers and preparing for the mother of all battles. And in San Bernardino County that battle is about to begin.
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States. The shelters in the county and city of San Bernardino are among the nation’s most notorious for animal abuse and violations of state law.
This past Monday a fundraising effort was announced to finance a series of lawsuits to force municipal animal shelters to follow California’s animal protection laws. With little fanfare, in less than 24 hours more than half of the initial amount needed was raised.
The first lawsuit will be filed in San Bernardino and similar suits may be filed in Los Angeles, Kern and San Joaquin counties as the project progresses. Other counties may be targeted as evidence is collected.
Additionally, but unrelated to this fundraiser, local attorneys are determining the merits of federal lawsuits in actions where animal control agencies violated the Fourth Amendment in their quest to discredit rescues and private citizens as well as retaliate against whistleblowers.
Up until now, municipal shelters have operated under the cloak of government protection, citing irrelevant laws to keep their secrets hidden from the public. Government officials regularly deny public access to records knowing the average citizen or cash-strapped rescue cannot afford to challenge unlawful policies in court. With a fully funded lawsuit, that will change.
Depositions and discovery are standard procedures in civil lawsuits. What this means is that a judge will order county and city lawyers to produce documents. More importantly, government officials will be forced to testify under penalty of perjury, not only in a court of law, but also during the deposition stage.
In San Bernardino County, for example, shelter employees have used pseudonyms on social media sites to harass and dissuade witnesses from reporting the atrocities at the Devore Animal Shelter, the county’s main detention and euthanizing facility. “Harve Morgan,” “HP,” “A Friend” and “MacawLuver” are all fake accounts used by a Devore employee to libel animal welfare activists.
In an email to Examiner, Brian Cronin, director of San Bernardino County Animal Control, wrote, “The individual described as H. P. Morgan is an ‘animal rescuer’ who supports the Devore Animal Shelter. This individual, not unlike yourself and other ‘rescuers’ will advance inquiries to staff and staff responds accordingly.
“I can assure you that I am not H.P. Morgan, nor do I have a desire to participate in the various on line debates that have occurred between the ‘rescue community’ and other parties.”
The problem with Cronin’s proclamation is that this person has posted confidential information to the internet that would only be known to Devore Shelter administrators and used that information to harass those that speak out. A deposition of Cronin and subpoena of Cronin’s government internet and email records would resolve the question of identity for good.
In the meantime private investigators have been gathering evidence, including IP addresses and blog postings, as well as surveillance videos in support of the intended lawsuits. At this point all that is holding up the filings is funds to pay for necessary filing fees, depositions and discovery motions.
The current set goal will only fund the initiation of the lawsuits. Additional money will be needed as the suits progress through the legal system. If you are interested in participating in this landmark legal battle, the site for donations can be found at YouCaring.com.