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Animal Sheltering
From May-June 1997 Issue


Following the Letter of the Law

Sergeant Sherry Schlueter of the Broward County's Sheriff's Department heads up a unique program that combines the authority of law enforcement with the mission of humane agencies.

By Scott Kirkwood

Sergeant Sherry Schlueter doesn't resemble the police sergeants you're used to seeing in Hollywood movies. She doesn't talk like the stereotypical police sergeant and, for that matter, she doesn't carry out the duties of most police sergeants. Schlueter is the head of the nation's first Abuse and Neglect Investigation Unit, a division of the Broward County Sheriff's office in Florida. OriginaIly created by Schlucter to resolve cases of animal abuse, the unit has grown to encompass the abuse of children, the handicapped, and the elderly.

Learning the Ropes

Schlueter first joined the animal protection movement in the '70s as a volunteer at the Humane Society of Broward County (HSBC). In time, she was brought on staff as the agency's sole investigative agent. Learning the job by poring over statutes, meeting with the state's attorney's office, and reading materials from The HSUS and AHA, Schlueter quickly concluded that to properly prosecute animal abuse and neglect, one needs the knowledge of a humane agent combined with the resources and authority of law enlorcement. In 1979 she appealed to the head of law enforcement in the county, and he, too, saw the need for a single unit to address animal cruelty.

In 1982, following graduation from the police academy and a few years as an officer on road patrol, she became the unit's sole agent. In 1986 Schlueter rose to the rank of sergeant, and today she oversees the work of six full-time agents. 

It's Not All Black and White

The combination of law enforcement and a humane ethic makes for a strong weapon in countering abuse and neglect, but Schlucter says that weapon can often be a double-edged sword. In addition to the power to seize animals, law enforcement agents have the authority to investigate, interview, interrogate, and make arrests. And while the badge and gun of a law officer may command more respect, they can also invite confrontation from otherwise cooperative individuals who are more likely to comply with a humane agent acting solely in the interests of the animal. Schlueter realizes that with power comes greater responsibility, but feels "law enforcement investigators should be investigating crimes against animals, specifically because they are crimes."

Stopping the Cycle of Abuse

Because the Abuse and Neglect Investigation Unit is concerned with crimes against animals, and also crimes against children, the elderly, and the disabled, Schlueter's officers have the unique opportunity to play a role, in fact every role, in bringing an end to the cycle of abuse. "This is a huge leap forward in recognition of law enforcement's responsibility and its role in addressing abuse as a cycle," says Schlueter.

 "Family pets are often the first victims of family violence," she says. "To make changes, we first need to reach the caring professions, social service agencies who are responsible for overseeing investigations involving child abuse." (For more on collaborative efforts to counter the cycle of abuse, see page 2 for information on HSUS's new "First Strike" campaign.) 

Lending a Helping Hand

Schlueter's law enforcement agency typically reacts to instances of violence, but as an individual she works proactively to instill the humane ethic. She has spent much of her time speaking to numerous womens' groups, addressing attendees at animal welfare workshops, and most recently traveling to California to speak to the Los Angeles Police Department about the finer points of animal abuse investigations.


With a background in animal protection coupled with the authority of law enforcement, Sergeant Schlueter is able to counter abuse and neglect from both sides of the fence.

She's also begun working with HSBC once again to form Companion Animal Rescue Efforts (CARE), a program to assist victims of domestic violence whose companion animals may be in jeopardy. "It's one of the most rewarding things I've been involved in," she says. "It saves animal lives and human lives." The group has already helped a dozen clients and more than 15 animals, going so far as to perform spay/neuter surgeries and provide inoculations at no cost. (For more information on support groups such as CARE, see the January-February 1997 issue of ASM.)

Assisting in the CARE program is, of course, just one of the many ways Schlueter helps HSBC care for and protect animals. "We'd gotten involved with Sergeant Schlucter [when we were] handling an animal collector in our area and she was instrumental in granting the humane society custody of those dogs," says HSBC's Jo-Anne Roman. "Since then we've built a good, trusting relationship with her. The people in our community turn to her with animal probems in crises and she shares [our] name with them -- whether it be for adoption or a place to put an animal if someone can't keep him. She's awonderful ally to have." 

Copyright © 1997 The Humane Society of the United States.