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Tuesday, January 11, 2000
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NYC's ASPCA Cops Bust Animal Abusers

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     ANIMAL COPS
By LAURA WILLIAMS
 
PHOTO
Annemarie Lucas and officer Mark MacDonald, a 27-year ASPCA veteran, with Carley the 5-month-old puppy whose throat was embedded with a collar that had never been loosened by his neglectful owner. 
- NYP: M. Norcia 
THREE uniformed officers arrive at the Brooklyn junkyard to check out an abuse call.

What they find would turn your stomach and break your heart.

There's the young black and tan dog with the skin hanging off her cheek, exposing the tender pink meat underneath. There's Carley, the 5-month-old puppy whose collar has never been loosened, so it's become embedded into her growing neck. The pus ringing her throat has matted the fur and grown crusty.

 Then there's the small brown pit bull that can't walk because one of her back legs hangs useless. Both her eyes are infected, her ear canals are swollen shut and she is so infested with ticks even the inside of her ears are encrusted with the pests, engorged on her blood.

The dogs are loaded into compartments of a special van, while the officers confront the alleged abuser - a burly, shirtless man who insists he loves his dogs.

"I take care of my dogs," he says, close to tears. "They know I'm here now. That's why they're calm.

"They did this to each other," he adds, explaining their injuries. He's stunned when one of the officers handcuffs and arrests him.

Clearly, these officers aren't regular cops. They are the little-known law-enforcement arm of the ASPCA, and their mission is to save animals all over the city from cruelty and neglect. They are armed and able to make arrests.

A few days in the life of this 10-member team, which handles about 4,000 cases a year, are chronicled in the documentary "Animal Cops," airing on Cinemax, tonight at 7.

"There's a lot that we do - its not just removing the animal," Annemarie Lucas, 33, a pretty petite blond officer who's been on the force for four years, tells The Post.

"We show up on a scene, we see the injured animal and we have to decide whether its a cruelty issue. We have to take the animal out of the situation and get the bad guy."

One morning, two officers scour a Bronx housing project to find whoever threw a black and white puppy to its death from a rooftop. Next, they rescue a panicked rhesus monkey riddled with urine burns that's been kept in a china closet for 10 years while the owner, an elderly women who calls the monkey "my daughter," hurls abuse at the officers.

(The beige monkey, Ruby, is eventually flown to a wildlife facility in Texas.)

Is it hard to see so many animals in so much pain day after day?

"When I first came here, it was very difficult for me," Lucas says. "I cried at the drop of a hat. One time, we brought a cat back that had been run over by a car so it's leg was half off. It had become pus-filled and festering. The guy [who owned it] knew it was injured, but he just left it in the basement.

"We ended up bringing the cat back here [to ASPCA headquarters on Manhattan's East 92d Street], and I was visibly upset in the exam room. This senior officer said to me: 'Listen, you're gonna have to toughen up.'

"And from that point on, I said, 'You know what? I'm of no use to the animals if I'm crying or I'm getting upset. So I stopped. In order to help the animals and get the bad guy, I had to be cool and calm and do my job."

Lucas, a self-described "small-town girl" from Connecticut came to New York to become an actress. But after a seeing the results of abuse at an animal shelter where she worked in Long Island, she decided to devote her life to help stamp out animal abuse and neglect.

But don't let her looks and kind heart fool you. In the documentary, she confronts a man at his apartment door who adamantly denies his involvement in organizing cockfights.

"I know you're full of bull - - - -," she tells him, suddenly tough. "This whole line you're feeding me is bull - - - -."

One of the strangest underground phenomena in the city is the culture of animal fighting. Cockfights and dog fights, usually between pit bull terriers, can be found in all five boroughs, the officers say.

"One thing I find very interesting about [people who engage animals in fights] - dog fighters, cock fighters - is that they insist that they love their animals, and that the animals love to fight," Lucas says. "They love that animal until it looses and they get the next one. It's just a vicious cycle."

There's big money to be made on wagers in cockfighting.

The birds are shaved and the comb and wattles are surgically removed "simply because it gives the other bird the advantage of grabbing these appendages that hang off," says Mark MacDonald, 46, a grizzled 27-year ASPCA veteran.

Their natural spurs are filed down and replaced with sharp metal ones to make them more deadly.

"I'll walk into your basement and you have ten roosters down there, and they're all in separate cages," says MacDonald. "I'll look for birds that were surgically altered, shaved. I'll look for paraphernalia like spurs and drugs. There are always a lot of vitamins, a lot of iron supplements. Fighters shoot the birds up with B-12: it helps get red corpuscles up to the wound area, and slows down the bleeding."

Dog fighting is less formalized.

"There are organized pit bull rings going on, but a lot of times kids in the summer will get their dogs together [to fight]," says Lucas.

The way the dogs are trained is often as cruel as the fighting.

"They do a lot of training called blooding," says MacDonald. "Blooding consists of taking other dogs, smaller breeds . . . They'll tie the dog's legs together, tape his mouth closed, and then let the pits loose on them.

"It builds the pit's moxie, and the owner doesn't have to worry about this dog getting injured - his dog just wins all the time.

"If it's not dogs they do it with chickens, they do it with rabbits, kittens, cats, puppies. Sometimes they put them in burlap sacks, put them on a pulley, hang them up and make the dog run up and keep grabbing at the bag with his jaws until he actually draws blood out of the bag.

"A lot of these dogs are put on treadmills, they put weights around their necks. Sometimes they put weights in saddlebags and put them on the dog's backs."

Busting up a dog fight can be dangerous, so the raids are choreographed down to the smallest detail.

"You get a warrant, you go in with a large team," says Lucas. "Everybody is assigned a position - some people are responsible for the animals, some are responsible for the perps. Usually there are 30 to 50 [gambling spectators] at these fights."

The ASPCA officers find they are sometimes not taken seriously.

"They think we're dog catchers," laughs Lucas. "People joke, 'Oh, you're the animal cops. What do you do, arrest dogs?'"

But they quickly discover it's no joke when the handcuffs are slapped on, and they're hauled off to the local police precinct.

"I had a guy throw a cat out a 13th-story window," says MacDonald. "I read him his Miranda [rights], brought him into the precinct. He says, 'What's the big deal? The cat's got nine lives.'"

"We find guns, we find drugs," Lucas says. "These people aren't the best society has to offer . . . If they're abusing an animal, it's likely they're abusing someone else in the household."

They refer case after case to the police or to the Administration for Children's Services.

"If the woman looks like she went through 10 rounds with Joe Louis but says she fell down stairs or moved a box that fell on her, the alarm goes off," MacDonald says. "You pick up the phone and make a call [to the police]."

The cruelty suffered by animals at the hands of their owners is not always intentional.

There's the old lady named Vera, for instance, who shares her Staten Island house with dozens of cats. When Lucas checks out the scene, she finds cats riddled with eye infections and other ailments. Flies buzz around the crusty fried eggs Vera has laid out for her pets.

Lucas notes the acrid, pungent smell of cat urine, but Vera responds: "I don't smell it."

Every day is unpredictable, says Lucas. One of her strangest assignments was rescuing an alligator living in an enormous fish tank in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

"I got to carry him on my lap all the way back," says Lucas. "We taped his mouth. I love that stuff. The only thing I don't like are spiders."


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