FOLLOWUP: Where Delridge animal-cruelty case stands, and how it’s part of a troubling trend

(Seattle Animal Shelter photo, October)

A month and a half after Matthew Hazelbrook‘s arrest, with hundreds of sick or dead animals found on his Delridge property, the survivors are still in the care of the Seattle Animal Shelter. Though – as we reported last month – Hazelbrook is charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty, SAS spokesperson Melissa Mixon tells WSB, “The animals are in the custody of SAS but still the property of the defendant and are not available for adoption at this time. Until we have an owner-surrender, or a court order, the animals cannot be put up for adoption. However, we will be working with our incredible community of foster parents to eventually move some of these animals into foster care.” Meantime, she adds, “We are seeing significant improvement in the health and wellbeing of the more than 200 animals in our care. This includes guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, chickens, and chinchillas.” If Hazelbrook is found guilty, restitution will be sought to cover what the SAS is spending to care for the animals. The case is making its way through the courts; he has another status hearing next Monday, after pleading not guilty last week.

(WSB photo, October)

This case is part of a troubling trend this year; the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office convened a media briefing today to talk about that trend. So far this year, KCPAO has filed charges in 19 animal-cruelty cases, double the number of recent years – 9 in 2019, 10 the year before that. (Recent cases include another in West Seattle, a Sunrise Heights man accused of duct-taping his dog’s head to try to quiet the dog.) A prosecutor who specializes in those cases, Tali Smith, said the nature of the cases also has evolved – previously, they primarily involved neglect, but now there’s increased violence. Violence against animals often accompanies violence against humans; police and animal-control officers are cross-trained to look for signs of one when investigating allegations of the other.

The Hazelbrook case originated with a tip, according to court documents. If you suspect animal cruelty, we asked, what’s the best thing to do? If it seems to be an urgent life-safety issue, SAS executive director Ann Graves replied, call 911. Otherwise, you can report it to her department, 206-386-PETS (7387). They do investigate, but it often takes time. And their enforcement team isn’t any bigger than it was when she began work 20+ years ago, she said when we asked about its size: 14 animal-control officers for the entire city. If you call to report a possible situation, provide them with as much information you can – what you saw, where you saw it,

The SAS’s other role, of course, is caring for animals if their owners can no longer do so, or need help, reminded Victoria VanNocken from the City Attorney’s Office. Added Graves: “Animal cruelty is not an animal problem, it’s a people problem.”

15 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Where Delridge animal-cruelty case stands, and how it's part of a troubling trend"

  • LivesInWS December 3, 2020 (4:59 pm)

    The owner isn’t fit to take care of animals. There should be a court order immediately to remove him from any ownership of these abused creatures. 

    • WSB December 3, 2020 (5:52 pm)

      Well, there’s already an order that he can’t currently own or live with animals, while the prosecution proceeds. But unless he voluntarily surrenders them, the eventual decision depends on how the court case turns out.

      • Jarod December 3, 2020 (8:34 pm)

        LivesinWS is a big fan of due process! He if he ever accused of a crime, his position will be, lock me up and throw away the key. The internet said I did it. 

      • Common Sense December 23, 2020 (3:23 pm)

        This man did not own many of these animals and had just picked them up to transport them to their new owners as part of his transport business. The people who hired him had no idea about the conditions at his property or what their small animals would be subjected to. However, although he stated he was not the owner and there are contracts showing he was hired to transport them, the animals have not been released to the actual owners.Can you imagine finding out your rabbit or guinea pig was subjected to this, then having it taken and handed out to another stranger?This is WRONG. 

  • Calires December 3, 2020 (8:07 pm)

    The law needs to be changed.  It’s sad when states like Texas have more progressive animal cruelty laws than Washington.  I’ve lived both places and have been involved with animal rescue and I’m shocked at how far behind Washington remains.

    • John Smith December 4, 2020 (12:44 am)

      Calires, Please give at least one example to back up your position/claims.

  • Jerod December 3, 2020 (8:14 pm)

    LivesInWS is a big fan of due process! If he’s ever accused of a crime, his position is throw him in prison and lock away the key immediately because the internet said he did it. 

  • Hospital worker December 4, 2020 (5:37 am)

    “You can tell the greatness of a nation by how it treats its animals”   Mahatma Gandhi 

  • anonyme December 4, 2020 (8:28 am)

    Completely agree with LivesinWS.  Ownership of these animals should have been relinquished as soon as they were seized.  The necessity of the seizure alone justifies this.

  • Sue T. December 4, 2020 (8:49 am)

    Considering its usual sensitivity to mental health issues, I’m surprised and disappointed that WSB does not mention that animal hoarding is sometimes more of a psychiatric disorder than a criminal behavior.      

    • WS REZ December 4, 2020 (10:30 am)

      Sue T., its not up to the WS Blog to speculate….. silly that you’re “disappointed” when they are reporting on facts alone. That’s good journalism. 

      • WSB December 4, 2020 (11:39 am)

        Certainly mental health can be an issue in any type of crime but – (a) Competency has not so far been raised as an issue in the Delridge case (I just checked the file again – he had a routine appearance today and the next one is set for Jan. 4th). (b) Mental health was only briefly discussed by yesterday’s panel. Of all the cases they’ve filed in recent years, they only mentioned two with mental-health components.

    • alki_2008 December 7, 2020 (10:41 pm)

      He’s not someone hoarding animals as pets, like someone that has 25 cats in their house because they love cats. He breeds and sells the animals, mostly guinea pigs and rabbits, all over the country.

  • John W December 4, 2020 (12:23 pm)

    Hoarding and animal abuse are definitely in the nexus of criminal behavior and mental health.I am always surprised by our ability as society to compartmentalise animal welfare  separating it from human welfare. We live in a system that  fails  human children both here and worldwide with  their welfare, abuse and starvation are largely ignored.Compassion for all peoples is the starting point, not compassion first for our pet animals.

  • anonyme December 5, 2020 (6:44 am)

    Compassion for non-human animals does not preclude compassion for humans.  It’s not an either/or choice; compassion has no hierarchy.  It’s this very attitude of speciesism that leads to animal abuse in the first place.

Sorry, comment time is over.