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.
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.”