Kevin L. Hoover
BAYSIDE – Two men named Mike tried to distinguish themselves from one another before an audience of animal lovers at the Humboldt Area Foundation Wednesday, May 19.
The Mikes, Hislop and Downey, are both running for Humboldt County Sheriff.
The animal activists included members of the Humboldt Vegetarian Society and other animal rescue groups.
Cynthia Ryan of the Sequoia Humane Society opened the discussion, stating that her agency conducts educational outreach, but relies on the HCSO for enforcement and animal control. “It’s really important that we as animal people know that people who are in charge of this department are going to put priority on animal abuse and neglect cases,” Ryan said.
Questions involved investigations of animal abuse and neglect; how those cases are prioritized in relation to property and person crimes; how deputies decide whether cases require investigation; and how animal neglect – defined as failure to provide food, shelter, water and veterinary care – is recognized by deputies, especially in borderline cases; whether HCSO responsible for animal control in unincorporated areas is an efficient use of resources; and how law enforcement can help prevent animal hoarding resulting in abuse.
Undersheriff Mike Downey was first up. He reviewed his resumé, which includes 24 years on the HCSO, rising up through the ranks and doing everything from SWAT to cannabis eradication, plus stints in SoHum and McKinleyville. He also taught at CR’s Police Academy and belongs to leading service clubs.
“I’m committed to building safer communities in Humboldt County,” Downey said.
He then addressed the questions.
He said the HCSO is lawfully obligated to investigate allegations of animal abuse, and does. HCSO, Downey said, takes animal abuse cases seriously. Cases that pose a higher threat level to the animals and the public may take priority, he said. That last part is key – cases of any nature which pose a threat to the public are given first attention.
Evidence, Downey said, is crucial. Deputies are trained and equipped for securing evidence, and they undergo continuing training. If more expertise is needed, one of the three Animal Control officers is brought in.
Proper care, he said, consists of clean water, fresh food, habitable conditions and no improper restraint.
Downey said the responsibilities of Deputy Steve Knight are misunderstood. Initially charged with constructing the new shelter, he has since taken on numerous additional duties.
Regarding hoarding, Downey said the HCSO has successfully prevented tragedies-in-the-making, and has achieved a low euthanasia rate.
Where Downey, as undersheriff, had the quasi-incumbent’s advantage of detailing issues with institutional knowledge and experience, Hislop, an investigator for the DA’s Office, was able to speak as the outside change agent looking to come in and shake up a complacent establishment.
Hislop has been an officer for 31 years, 28 in Eureka. After 25 years at EPD in SWAT, mounted patrol, as a K-9 officer, he became chief investigator for the DA. He contains a number of degrees and has FBI training as well.
He said the HCSO hasn’t budgeted wisely and needs to restore its service level through better allocation of resources.
“I consider animal abuse as a felony right up there as a felony with child abuse and elder abuse. We come into this world helpless and defenseless, and just before we leave this world we are helpless and defenseless,” Hislop said. Domesticated animals are vulnerable to” any kind of punishment or wrath of a person because they can’t defend themselves.”
He detailed a case of dog cruelty which the HCSO hadn’t adequately investigated, brandishing that agency’s four-page summary and then holding up a thick binder that reflected a superior DA’s Office investigation.
Hislop said Knight was being used inefficiently. “He needs to be out managing law enforcement personnel,” Hislop said. “What we need at the animal shelter is a civilian manager and animal rights advocate.”
He said hoarding reflects a mental disorder, and is preventable with intervention and treatment.
“We need a paradigm shift,” Hislop summarized. “The deputies don’t care about animal violations. They think it’s a pain in the backside... That’s what we need to change.” He later said that it wasn’t the fault of the “great” deputies, but of their failed leadership.