A brief video depicting a man hitting his dog in Hotchkiss Park went viral on Nextdoor over the weekend, but to many neighbors’ dismay the dog was returned to his owner after receiving medical clearance from the City’s veterinarian.
According to SMPD Public Information officer Rudy Flores, the Santa Monica Police Department received a call for service on April 11 regarding dog abuse. The dog and owner were no longer on scene when police arrived, but officers were able to track down the owner by working with Animal Control officers.
The video captured by the individual who reported the incident shows a man hitting his dog several times on the body and head with the hard handle of a leash. The dog can be heard yelping in the video and seen trying to get away from the owner.
On April 12, the owner consented to surrendering the dog for investigation. The dog was examined by a veterinarian at the Santa Monica Animal Shelter and showed no health-related abnormalities. Given the results of the examination, SMPD did not have the authority to separate the dog from his owner and he was returned on April 13.
“Detectives continued their investigation and will present the case to either the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office or Santa Monica City Attorney for a felony or misdemeanor animal cruelty filing consideration,” said Flores. “We share the concerns expressed by many related to the welfare of the dog. Until such time as there is a court order related to the removal of the animal or the filing of charges against the owner, SMPD has no legal standing to enact any further actions related to the custody of the dog.”
According to Robert Silverstein, SMPD Animal Control Administrator, a dog needs to have a physical injury or show signs of abuse such as undernourishment in order to be forcibly removed from its owner. Silverstein said that Animal Control handles two or three instances of abuse a year where the incident is referred to the DA’s office or Santa Monica City Attorney’s office for the potential filing of an animal cruelty misdemeanor or felony.
Animal cruelty is defined under California Penal Code section 597(a) as maliciously and intentionally killing, harming, neglecting, maiming, wounding or torturing a living animal.
According to Carmen Molinari, a dog behavioral specialist and owner of local training company Love at First Sit, incidents of dog abuse—even ones that don’t cause lasting physical injuries—can have lasting impacts on a dog’s behavior.
“When somebody abuses their dog… that dog could develop an aversion to even being outside and could have an aversion to feeling pressure on the leash, and the way that they demonstrate that stress can then turn into issues like aggression and fearfulness,” said Molinari. “I have clients that the dog won’t even move on leash because they’re so terrified, or even where the dog seems normal but the minute that they feel stressed, they’ll redirect that aggression towards whoever is nearby them.”
Molinari also said that stress from abuse can cause a dog to develop physical health issues such as self-mutilation or under-eating.
The Santa Monica Animal Shelter takes care of abandoned animals, rescued animals and animals that are victims of abuse. When Animal Control responds to an abuse call where the animal has health issues or the owner voluntarily surrenders the animal, the shelter will take care of the animal while the abuse case is being processed.
The shelter receives funding from the City and also relies on donations through its associated non-profit organization the Santa Monica Animal Shelter Foundation. Anyone interested in supporting the foundation by donating or volunteering at the shelter can visit www.smasf.org/.
Silverstein said that anyone who witnesses a life threatening incident of animal abuse should call 911. If residents see a non-threatening incident of abuse or have reason to believe an animal is being abused, Silverstein said they should call the non-emergency police dispatch number, which is 310-458-8491.