The care of animals seized in criminal cruelty cases will be paid by forfeiture funds as part of the cost of prosecuting their abusers, the Nassau County district attorney's office pledged Tuesday.
Upward of 100 animals have been seized in cases over the years, rescues often slowed down as shelter officials and authorities struggle over who has the money and space to take them, Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
"We just wanted to make sure animals are taken care of and the taxpayers didn't have to take on the burden of these costs" she said. "We just wanted to eliminate cost as any kind of factor for making a determination about whether to take on the animal."
Shelters and veterinarians have been absorbing the costs of caring for seized animals.
But the cost of rescuing abused animals ballooned as word spread of the animal crimes unit, started in 2010, prosecutors said. At first tips were slow, but last year about 300 calls came in, they said.
In a letter about the funding sent Tuesday to police departments and commanders, municipalities and shelters, Singas noted that animal abuse has been linked not just to domestic abuse but organized crime, such as drug and weapons trafficking.
"Gangs and dogfighting are big business," Singas said, "and the animals pay the price."
Usually, animals in criminal cases must be held as evidence until their alleged abusers are freed, convicted or sentenced or until their owners sign them over.
Nursing the animals back to health is expensive because they're often found maimed, bloody and skeletal, or their broken bones and wounds have long been unseen by a veterinarian.
In one dog-related case now being prosecuted, just a half-hour of emergency veterinary services and tests cost about $875, Singas' office said. Currently, the county has about 30 animals in shelters as cases against their abusers wind through courts, prosecutors said.
While costs per year to board, feed and provide veterinary care fluctuate depending on the cases, the Nassau district attorney's office held almost $15 million in seized cash and properties.
Singas said that's enough to relieve shelters, which take in other rescues: "The shelters shouldn't have to sacrifice the primary care of other animals for these in criminal prosecutions."