Office's first animal cruelty unit gets jail sentence for dog abuser
Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. has announced recent successes from his new animal cruelty unit, where the office is aggressively prosecuting anyone accused of killing or injuring an animal in the community.
This comes after 54-year-old Santiago Morales of Buffalo was ordered to spend six months in jail by Buffalo City Court Judge Debra L. Givens, after he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for beating a 20-month-old Chihuahua named Susie. The judge also issued an order that Morales may not own or possess another animal for the next five years.
Susie has since been adopted into a loving home.
"For decades, animal welfare professionals throughout the country have expressed frustration over animal cruelty not being taken seriously, or seriously enough, by their local prosecutors and judges," SPCA Serving Erie County Executive Director Gary Willoughby said. "While that may have been true at one time in Erie County, New York, it is true no longer. Representatives here are keenly aware of the significance of violence towards animals and its relationship to violence towards people. We are fortunate to represent a county in which the district attorney and his representatives recognize the importance of this link and why zero tolerance for animal cruelty is a position that needs to be maintained. It's another way of protecting not just the animals but the people of our county."
Flaherty created the animal cruelty unit when he took the helm in January. The unit focuses on cases solely involving animal abuse and has one dedicated prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Justin T. Wallens.
"My office was serious about these crimes before, but the time is right to have a prosecutor committed to aggressively prosecuting these cases," Flaherty said. "We find that many animal abuse perpetrators are prone to other violent behaviors."
In this unit, Wallens works closely with Erie County SPCA peace officers, city and town animal control officers, forensically trained veterinarians and experts in the study of animal fighting employed by the ASPCA, a national organization.
In March, the district attorney's office convicted Amy Backert and Martinez Johnson of Buffalo of animal cruelty for the severe malnourishment of Diamond, a Doberman pinscher.
When SPCA officials found the dog last year, Diamond was emaciated, with protruding ribs and hipbones; pressure sores; and infected, open wounds.
Diamond was surrendered to the SPCA Serving Erie County and immediately received extensive medical care. The Buffalo couple is now subject to home searches and can't own a pet for the next three years.
Diamond is now thriving in his new home.
"Every animal in our community deserves to be raised in a loving, safe environment," Flaherty said. "We will go after whoever abuses any defenseless creature in our community."