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Erie County DA’s new unit aims to put the bite on animal cruelty

As he spoke at the lectern, Justin Wallens reached down and pet Diamond, the 12-year-old Doberman pinscher panting at his side.

In March, Diamond’s owners were convicted for her severe malnourishment and open wounds. On Friday, the now-healthy dog stood with the SPCA as a representative of the successes seen in the new Animal Cruelty Unit established by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Acting District Attorney Michael Flaherty announced the new unit and the SPCA Serving Erie County partnership aiming to end animal cruelty. He said it was time for a unit with the specific task of investigating and prosecuting animal abuse cases.

Wallens, an assistant district attorney, has been appointed to oversee all such cases.

In this unit, Wallens works closely with SPCA officers, city and town animal control officers, forensically trained veterinarians and experts in the study of animal fighting.

“Justin will make sure that that case is handled appropriately through our criminal justice system,” Flaherty said. “There is a go-to person who is experienced, competent and always available.”

He said this abuse cannot be tolerated and is grateful for the SPCA partnership. “Working together, we can seek to end this awful, awful practice,” he said.

The announcement comes after Santiago Morales, a 54-year-old Buffalo man, was sentenced to six months in jail after he pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for beating a 20-year-old Chihuahua named Susie. Gary Willoughby, executive director of the county SPCA, said the dog has been adopted into a loving home.

“We can do all the work and we can do so much, but if we don’t have a proactive DA’s office that cares about this, it wouldn’t go any further,” he said.


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