Three dogs and a cat. A horse. Doves and turtles. All barely alive in their Mason County home. The animals were extremely malnourished and emaciated from hunger, covered in open wounds while living among trash, feces and urine. In critical condition, pit bull Fred couldn’t open his eyes and had to be carried out on a stretcher during the rescue in May 2018. Another pit, Baby, had fur stained yellow from months of sitting in her urine and feces.

According to FBI data released in 2021, this tragic case is just an example of the more than 11,500 incidents of animal cruelty recorded nationally. Unfortunately, that’s an undercount, as not all law enforcements report data.

In the Puget Sound region, Pasado’s Safe Haven’s three-person Investigations & Rescue team investigated or supported 155 animal cruelty cases in 2021.

These specialists, along with behavioral experts and veterinarians, offer critical assistance in cases of animal cruelty, from rescue to rehabilitation to prosecution of animal abusers.

Animal cruelty: Beyond the surface

Animal cruelty can look like simple neglect (lack of food, water and sanitation), hoarding, or more cruel and malicious neglect — abandonment or lack of urgent medical care. Cruelty can take the form of organized dogfighting and cockfighting, along with intentional abuse, torture, ritualistic abuse and animal sexual assault.

The U.S. Department of Justice notes the critical importance of investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty cases — animal abuse is often a gateway crime to further criminal activity. According to the DOJ, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses.

Investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty offers the chance to not only save animals’ lives but also prevent future crime by getting abusers into psychological evaluation and social services.

Rescue and rehabilitation

The veterinary forensics field is relatively new. Few animal control and law enforcement officers are experienced in the techniques needed to investigate animal crimes or understand how an abused dog may be a window to other offenses.

To change that, Washington state and national law enforcement, animal control, prosecutors and veterinarians are undergoing training and workshops to improve animal-related crime response. Pasado’s Safe Haven partnered with the Marysville Police Department and the Washington State Police Academy to create on-demand animal cruelty investigations training available to all 10,000 plus active Washington law enforcement officers, to improve police response to these unique cases. Since launching a year ago the training has enrolled more than 70 agencies and trained 469 officers.

After being rescued, animals like Baby and Fred often need extensive medical and/or behavioral rehabilitation. They will head to an animal sanctuary, like Pasado’s Safe Haven, the Pacific Northwest’s largest sanctuary at 85 acres and home to more than 200 rescued animals. The organization has been helping animal crime victims for 25 years.

Legal action

To optimize how the criminal justice system works for animals, Pasado Safe Haven also works with legal experts, prosecutors, judges and others. “Our uniquely qualified team fought hard to get justice for these animals. We kept evidence logs, provided investigative reports and gave continuous support to the prosecutor’s office on this case,” says Kirsten Gregory, Pasado’s Safe Haven’s director of animal cruelty response and prevention.

Pasado’s Safe Haven works with both experienced prosecutors and those inexperienced in animal cruelty cases to provide charge-supporting evidence, help secure convictions and develop appropriate sentencing suggestions.


Altogether, testimony and evidence help the judge and jury evaluate the case and apply sentencing.  Criminal punishments for animal abuse could include restitution, fines, probation, community service or prison. 

Legislative action

Pasado’s Safe Haven is the only locally based animal nonprofit with a dedicated presence in Olympia and is recognized by legislators as an essential voice on animal issues. Their work helps drive important policy changes on behalf of animals, including Pasado’s Law, which created the new crime of first-degree felony animal cruelty in 1994. The law and organization were named after Pasado, a community donkey at Bellevue’s Kelsey Creek Farm, who was brutally tortured and killed in 1992. 

Over the past 25 years, 15 more laws in Washington state were passed to protect animals, including strengthening anti-animal fighting provisions in 2019 and banning retail sales of cats and dogs in 2021. The 2021 legislation protects both consumers and animals by ensuring that no new puppy-selling pet stores can open in Washington, another step in helping to shut down the inhumane puppy mill pipeline.

Pasado’s Safe Haven has a comprehensive approach to fighting animal cruelty. In addition to investigating crimes against animals and providing sanctuary to abused animals, we advocate for better laws to protect animals and educate the public.