St. Louis is one step closer to becoming a national leader in animal welfare after the formation of the Mayor Francis Slay Animal Cruelty Task Force, the first of its kind in the city. The obvious need for the task force was in large part due to the shocking landmark abuse case earlier this year, when Darick Dashon Stallworth mutilated, starved, and killed five dogs. After rather indifferently pleading guilty to three felony counts of animal abuse and two misdemeanor counts of animal neglect in a late August hearing, Judge Margaret Neill sentenced Stallworth to four years for three felony animal abuse counts to be served concurrently and 15 days for two misdemeanor animal neglect counts to be served concurrently.
For St. Louis, a city that has been inundated with escalating animal abuse and neglect cases, this sentencing marks a new era for the city in terms of rigorous enforcement of laws and ordinances and raises awareness of animal cruelty and what can be done to prevent it.
The abuse case, which caught international attention and outraged animal welfare advocates, was a catalyst in bringing together key members of the Mayor’s Office, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, the St. Louis Police Department, the Circuit Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Health. The mission of the Mayor’s Animal Cruelty Task Force is to create a safer St. Louis for both companion animals and city residents.
The Task Force will coordinate efforts and improve communication among the Mayor’s Office, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, the Department of Health, the Circuit Attorney’s Office, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, and the Municipal Courts.
“The City has made huge strides when it comes to the humane treatment of animals, For instance, we are euthanizing fewer dogs,” said Mayor Slay. “This is the next logical step. We will not tolerate the inhumane treatment of innocent creatures.”
Stray Rescue of St. Louis, an independent companion animal rescue and shelter nonprofit that has been featured on networks like CNN, National Geographic and Animal Planet, has tenaciously led the way towards the conviction of Stallworth, as well as the creation of the task force. The rescue group plays a unique role in the city, responding to the vast majority of these alarming cases on a weekly, if not daily, basis and compiling key evidence to aid in prosecution. Stray Rescue has tapped Officer Lewis Naes to be St. Louis’ first member of the department dedicated to investigating animal cruelty.
“This task force is without a doubt one of the most significant steps forward for St. Louis in the battle to end animal abuse,” said Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue. “This is a forceful message to those who are cruel to animals –there will be serious consequences to your criminal actions.”
Based on the experience of all involved and the progressive nature of the task force, Grim believes that St. Louis’ program will soon serve as a model for the rest of the nation to follow.
“Stray Rescue and Mayor Slay have done an excellent job of bringing needed community awareness to the issue of animal abuse, and we’re proud to be a part of the solution,” said Circuit Attorney Jennifer M. Joyce. “When the community gets involved in aiding law enforcement in our efforts to hold offenders accountable for their crimes – against humans and animals – we are much more likely to achieve justice.”
Concerning the Stallworth case, Stray Rescue staff responded to a police call about a deceased dog on the ledge of a second floor window in May of this year. The rescuers discovered four additional dead dogs in the vacant residence, all of which had suffered torturous abuse and neglect ranging from starvation to being burned alive to strangulation.
“We are outraged, we have had enough, and we are making a united stand,” said Grim. “The tide is turning.”
Stray Rescue is also taking significant preventative, proactive measures to curb future abuse and neglect through dedicated community outreach programs, some of which include providing underserved communities with resources, such as spay and neuters, vaccinations, etc. Stray Rescue is also creating a class that judges can use at sentencing to educate people who are found guilty in municipal court.