The five dogs were already dead when members of Stray Rescue entered an abandoned Hamilton Heights apartment building in May 2012. All the animals had been tortured. Some were burned, others strangled or crushed before the end.
The public uproar over the incident led to the formation of Mayor Francis Slay's Animal Cruelty Task Force in September of that year. Since then, the task force -- comprised of Stray Rescue, city police, the circuit attorney's office and the health department -- has gone after hundreds cases of animal abuse and neglect, earning RFT's "Best Worthy Cause" of 2013.
Below, we've got the latest numbers on animal abuse from the mayor's office, and a status update from the founder of the Stray Rescue animal shelter, Randy Grim.
Since its creation eighteen months ago, the task force has prosecuted over 190 cases of animal abuse, issued over 350 citations and made over 25 arrests for misdemeanor and felony charges, according to officials from the circuit attorney and mayor's office.
"We're making huge progress," says Grim.
"It wouldn't be successful if we just ran around and arrested everybody. What makes it successful is giving underserved communities the ability to have pets and to take care of them. If they can't afford it, we step in and help them."
When a tip comes in about possible animal abuse, it's Grim who acts as first responder and primary investigator. Then the police arrive.
"They usually meet me at the scene. That's kind of how it works," he says. Grim's got two detectives on his side to handle the sometimes daily barrage of cases. "I contact them directly. I have a direct contact to the circuit attorney's office and the mayor's office, and also with the health department. We all work together."
For years, Grim has been sounding the alarm on the epidemic of animal abuse in the city, especially within the communities of north St. Louis. There, he says, the environmental effects of poverty and violent crime can create horrific living conditions for people and animals alike.
"You really have to help the entire family as a unit, not just the dog," he says.
So the challenge isn't just stopping the abuse, but engaging in what Grim calls a holistic approach to supporting these communities. Stray Rescue members canvass the streets by ZIP code, offering classes on healthy pet ownership, free vet care as well as spay and neuter procedures.
Of course, Grim and his allies are also looking for abused pets.
"There's neglect, which really what these classes are for, because it's really someone who doesn't know how to properly care for a dog or a cat," he says.
But when it comes to a violent abuser like Darick Stallworth -- who admitted to killing the dogs in the Hamilton Heights apartment in 2012 -- the solution is prison, not classes.
Stallworth wasn't the only high-profile arrest attributed to the task force:
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