AR Philosophy > Legalities

Linda Helser
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 27, 2005

At only 28, attorney Tony Church has amassed quite a four-legged fan club.

There's Riley, the pup who was found in a dumpster with his mouth duct-taped shut, his body bleeding from stab wounds.

Also there's Thomas, the cat who was shot twice and sealed alive into an airtight garbage bag.

And don't forget Sandy, the chow mix who was dragged behind a truck until her paws resembled raw hamburger.

As victims of senseless abuse at the hands of humans, all have Church to thank for making certain that those who intentionally harmed them have suffered, too, through fines and incarceration.

For his continued and compassionate efforts in successfully prosecuting animal cruelty cases and bringing perpetrators to justice, Church recently was named the Arizona Animal Welfare League's 2005 Pet Person of the Year.

"Animals don't have a voice, and they're so helpless," Church said. "I want to make sure that people are aware that when they do something like this to an animal, it's a crime and they will be held accountable."

Not long after joining the Maricopa County Attorney's Office as a deputy county attorney in the criminal trial division, the young prosecutor, who still sports braces on his teeth, started requesting the animal abuse cases.

"I learned really early on in life about the value and beauty of animals," said Church, who recalled that a cat named Gremlin was a constant companion as he grew up in Illinois.

Today, he shares his Phoenix home with Justice and Sheriff, two rescued pooches found cowering, filthy and starving under a trailer, and eight cats, all homeless when discovered by Church.

Although the plight of his own pets still troubles him, it was his first abuse case in November 2003 that haunts him the most.

"A guy was retaliating against his girlfriend," he said, "and since her dog had just had puppies, he began throwing the puppies, one by one, over the roof of the house and into the yard next door."

All the puppies died.

But thanks to Church, armed with a beefed-up animal cruelty law passed in 1999 that makes some abuse cases a Class 6 felony instead of just a misdemeanor, the boyfriend was successfully prosecuted.

He was convicted of the felony, served four months in jail and was placed on supervised probation for two years. Not to mention the $12,000 fine.

The maximum sentence for a Class 6 felony can include two years in prison and $150,000 in fines.

"It's still not enough, but at least it's a start," said Church, who sees an increasing interest from the public that abusers be dealt with harshly.

Although Church got his conviction, he's still troubled by the boyfriend's lack of remorse.

"He told police he didn't really think he had done anything wrong and that what he did was a lot like poaching an animal in the off-season," Church recalled.

Even for those with no real empathy for animals, they should at least consider the ramifications of animal abuse, Church believes.

"People who abuse animals are more likely to abuse other people down the road or are already abusing people at the same time they're abusing animals," he said.

Since that first case, Church's record stands at 10 convictions, with 11 still on his caseload.

Although animal abuse cases represent only 15 percent of his total workload, his efforts have been inspiring to others.

"His passion is infectious," said Brad McMillen, 33, a property crimes detective with the Glendale Police Department who also has a soft spot for animals.

"The first case I worked with him was the dog who was duct-taped, and I became very passionate about it because, for one thing, serial killers start with (killing) animals," he said.

The young prosecutor has proved to be a great asset for the detective.

"We must talk once a week and he's a huge resource," McMillen said, "because I'm not by any means an expert on animal abuse, so he helps to educate me, and I ask him a lot of questions."

Miriam Carranza, 34, a certified animal cruelty investigator for the Animal Welfare League, said having a prosecutor like Church in her corner makes her job much more rewarding.

"If you don't have support, you can't go anywhere (with a case), and to have somebody like Church around to actually take these cases seriously is huge," she said. "Having a good prosecutor on your side to help you make a better case and explain information to a judge is huge."

Carranza, who has the authority to file charges against abusers and never ceases to be amazed at what humans will do to animals, said she confers with Church frequently over letters of the law. "He's always doing research, so I call him up and run things by him to see what it takes for prosecution."

Church does see some commonality in those who are prosecuted.

"It's been all men except one female, and most have not had much in the way of an education background," he said. "As for ages, it's run from 18 to mid-50s; it's all races, all religions, all parts of town."

A lack of accountability is one other thing they seem to have in common. "They say it's only a dog or whatever, so what's the big deal," he said. "It's not like it's the crime of the century."

But what brought almost all of them to some sort of justice was citizen involvement.

"Having the public come forward when they see abuse is absolutely vital," he said. "It's impossible for law enforcement to do it all and be everywhere."

Do call authorities, Church stressed. "But never directly confront them (abusers) yourself." 

Regards, Carolyn Mullin, Director No More Homeless Animals 3844 W. Channel Islands Blvd. #PMB 185 Oxnard, California USA 93035-4001