When it comes to prosecution of animal abusers, people can talk for themselves but the victims of the abuse can’t. DAWGs or Dog Advisory Work Group Court Advocates is working to even the balance. In Chicago, average citizens are being trained as watchdogs of sorts for the animals involved in crimes.

The need for these advocates is being felt because, with newly strengthened animal abuse laws, the number of prosecutions is rising.

Cook County courts have more than 30 animal-abuse related hearings scheduled through the end of June.

Cynthia Bathurst, a court advocate and president of the Cook County Partner Against Animal Cruelty Task Force, said anyone over 18 can be an advocate in Cook County courts.

“We need to see what we can do in the south [suburbs and south Chicago], where we’ve seen a significant number of cases in the past year,” Bathurst said.

Last summer, Cook County had one of its largest busts, seizing 37 dogs from a South Holland man accused of operating a fighting ring on his property.

County Sheriff Police animal crime investigators said they’re also often called to the Ford Heights area, Harvey and Chicago’s South Side to investigate dog fighting and other forms of abuse.

Beyond dog-fighting cases, courts are also prosecuting owners for sexual abuse to animals, neglect and other forms of inhumane treatment.

“Advocates’ presence, observations and awareness help ensure that these crimes against animals are treated seriously and that the entire community understands that crimes against animals are part of a web of violence that impacts people and animals alike,” Bathurst said.

Advocates are given handouts with state laws regarding animal cases and guidelines on sentencing. If those aren’t followed, advocates can approach the assistant state’s attorneys during a recess in a hearing.

Last week, more than two dozen people came to the Bridgeview Courthouse to learn how to be a DAWG. Jim Unton, a dog trainer from Orland Park, was one of them. “I figured it’s worth a shot to help an animal,” he said.

To become an advocate or just learn more: Visit www.dawgsite.org or call (312) 409-2169 ext. 3. (Sun Times)

What an excellent program!! More cities and towns could easily institute something like this. Manned by volunteers with a passion and love for animals and a belief that they deserve to have their welfare given the proper consideration, this is a program that can and should be emulated across the country.

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