It took months before anyone noticed, next to a clothing donation box on State Road 52 in Spring Hill, a lone pet carrier.
“When I arrived on the scene, I did see the dog crate as it is right now,” said Pasco County animal control officer Danielle Downes.
Inside that crate, Downes found the decayed skeleton of a dog that had likely died laying on its side.
“All we knew was that we had an animal that potentially had suffered greatly. Whether from heat, dehydration, starvation. We weren’t really sure,” she said.
Because of the remote location and time that had passed, investigators never found out who left the dog to die.
Downes could tell from the kind of larvae on the remains, months had passed.
“They’ll clean anything off from the remaining tissue, the cartilage to where its primarily just the dense bone that’s left,” she said.
The Pasco County animal control officers now have a better chance than ever before at catching animal abusers. And that’s because for the first time they have someone certified as a Humane Investigator.
Lorraine Drake just finished training in animal cruelty investigation and animal forensics. And she's putting that training to use right away.
Drake said going to animal crime scenes is much the same as ones involving human victims.
“We want to make sure that we do proper documentation, evidence collection and basically prove intent that they want to do the animal harm.”
Animal neglect cases are the most common. Hoarding cases can be especially nasty.
“I remember certain cases where there was roach infestation, that it probably took a good two weeks to stop closing my eyes and seeing roaches crawling over the place,” said Drake.
And then there are the select few cases, where someone intentionally hurts or kills an animal. Those are tough to take, according to Drake.
“You have to love the animals. Understand that you are not going to be able to save them all unfortunately,” said Drake.
They all say they are animal lovers with pets at home. And that can make visiting these scenes very difficult.
“First and foremost you have to be able to keep your emotions in check. If you don’t know how to do that, sometimes you can blow your investigation. If you want to really bring justice to these animals who are done wrong, staying level headed and objective and documenting is the best way to help them,” said Downes.
Many cases will never be solved. But this new crew will continue to help all the animals they can and punish those who do harm to them.