Protecting Animals: Justice for Bella

A former legal intern recounts his experience working with the Investigations Department at OHS. Contributed by John Hopkinson, Investigations Program Assistant.

John and Baxter, a dog helped by the OHS Investigations Department.
John Hopkinson, OHS Investigations Program Assistant, with Baxter, a dog helped by our Investigations team, at OHS.

On an average Saturday, around 700 people walk through the doors at OHS to meet pets for adoption. However, most people do not realize that many of our available animals come from abuse and neglect cases investigated by OHS.

The Investigations Department at OHS is a law enforcement agency comprised of Humane Special Agents, support staff, an attorney and forensically-trained veterinarians. During my internship, I had an opportunity to partake in open investigations and observe the roles that police officers, veterinarians, and attorneys play in prosecuting animal crimes.

Using the Law to Protect Animals

Many of my peers seemed surprised to hear that I was undertaking a legal internship at a humane society, but OHS plays many important roles in the legal arena. During my first week at OHS, I attended legislative work sessions in the state capital and watched our Executive Director, Sharon Harmon, testify about the importance of several legislative initiatives designed to protect animals in Oregon.

As part of the Investigations team, I assisted in search warrant executions, collected evidence, observed forensic necropsies, prepared OHS staff to be witnesses at trial, and worked with prosecutors to hold guilty parties accountable for crimes against animals. My internship lasted for one year, after being extended twice—from May 2015 to May 2016. I have since stayed on at OHS as the Investigations Program Assistant, after graduating with my Juris Doctor from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2016.

From Victim to Verdict: Justice for Bella

Bella at OHS

The most rewarding aspect my internship was observing how involved OHS is in improving the lives of animal victims. I will never forget one survivor in particular: a small, one-year-old tabby cat named Bella.

In August 2015, young woman reported to OHS that she believed her roommate caused serious intentional injury to his cat in their apartment. She reported that she heard her roommate slam something into the shared wall between their rooms. She also witnessed her roommate violently beating a carrier containing the cat before placing it in a shower and dousing it with water. The witness noticed Bella was injured and begged her roommate to take Bella to the vet, but the roommate refused. The witness reported the incident to OHS.

OHS Humane Special Agent Ulli Neitch responded and observed Bella firsthand. She could tell that Bella’s injuries required immediate medical evaluation and care and took Bella into protective custody.

The OHS Animal Medical Learning Center
The OHS Animal Medical Learning Center (AMLC)

Once Bella was transported back to OHS, the medical team placed Bella under a diagnostic and treatment plan. Radiographs revealed a broken tooth and fractured ribs, which punctured a lung and resulted in pockets of air beneath her skin. The examining veterinarian determined that these painful injuries were the result of blunt force trauma.

Bella was surrendered to OHS and spent two weeks under medical supervision until she was fully healed. Once Bella became available for adoption, she was at home with a new family within one day.

The Steps to Justice

In the meantime, Special Agent Neitch wrote a search warrant, had it approved by a judge, and served it at the suspect’s apartment. Once the suspect was secured, a forensic technician and I entered the apartment and collected evidence. Following interviews with the suspect and witnesses, the suspect was issued a citation for animal abuse and animal neglect.

After the search warrant was executed, I assembled all of the evidence, photographs, legal documents, and OHS staff reports into a case packet for the district attorney prosecuting the crime.

Due in part to the thoroughness of our team during the investigation, the suspect pled guilty to Animal Abuse in the First Degree. In October 2015, the suspect was sentenced to five days in jail and probation for two years, which included anger management counseling and a ban on possessing domestic animals for five years.

A view of the lab inside the OHS AMLC
A view of the lab inside the OHS AMLC

Bella’s case exemplifies how the various departments at OHS work together to save and improve the lives of animals in Oregon. The Investigations department removed Bella from her abusive situation and brought her abuser to justice. The Medical team rehabilitated Bella and the Adoptions team placed her in her forever home.

Although OHS is comprised of many departments, the entire staff works seamlessly together to improve and save the lives of animals. Being a part of that process was by far the most rewarding experience of my legal education, and I am grateful to OHS for providing an opportunity to use my education to better the lives of animals like Bella.

More Resources & Information

OHS Humane Special Agents are commissioned by the Oregon State Police and have full police power to enforce animal cruelty and neglect laws throughout the state. They receive no tax dollars and are entirely supported through donations to OHS.

If you see something, please say something. Report cruelty online here »

What constitutes cruelty or neglect in Oregon? More information »

Animal advocacy and legislation resources »

FAQ: Open cases are confidential, so as with an open police investigation, you will not receive updates on a report you file. The OHS Investigations team does take all reports into account.