Animal abuse complaint turns ugly after county outs caller. Broward blames state law for stripping away confidentiality. - NewsBreak (2023)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Imagine reporting a case of animal abuse only to have the county turn your name and number over to the alleged abuser.

It happens on a regular basis in Broward County.

And on June 29, it happened to animal lover Anita Simmons, earning her a barrage of threatening phone calls and text messages from the dog’s owner.

“When I find out how you look, I will get up in your damn business,” he snarled on the recording. “I will find out who the hell you are. Stay the hell out of my damn business. I don’t care if I do have my dog outside. He will be on the back patio tonight. He will be there in the morning. He will be there in the afternoon. He will be there every f------ day. You keep on messing with me about my damn dog and I will press charges on your a--. What the hell is wrong with you? If you’re a dog lover, worry about your damn dog.”

The phone calls and texts started rolling in less than an hour after Simmons called the Broward County shelter to report a possible case of abuse.

Shelter officials point to a new state law that went into effect a year ago that prohibits code enforcement officers from investigating anonymous complaints.

Animal abuse complaint turns ugly after county outs caller. Broward blames state law for stripping away confidentiality. - NewsBreak (1)

‘I will find out who you are’

The dog owner also left a nasty voicemail for a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter who called to get his side of the story.

“Leave me the f— alone,” he said. “You call me again, I will find out who you are, and if you keep getting in contact with me, we’re going to see how far this goes. Don’t get in contact with me about anything.”

Simmons, who lives more than two hours away, never set eyes on the dog in the crate firsthand. Instead, she spotted a Facebook post that showed photos of a pit bull peering out from a black crate.

“This is my life 24/7 day and night,” the post said. “Help me. Left in a crate on a patio. Please help me out of this cage.”

The post, created by a local animal advocate, included the North Lauderdale address of the dog’s owner and urged people to call the county.

When Simmons called the Broward Animal Care and Adoption Center, she was told she had to give her name, number and address. She hesitated, thinking her call would be anonymous. But in the end, she shared the information requested.

[ RELATED: Investigation: Broward shelter director turns away dogs, outraging critics ]

Emily Wood, director of Broward Animal Care, says she consulted with the county attorney’s office about the new state law and was told shelter staff can no longer investigate anonymous complaints.

“I have gotten a couple instances where people were upset because they had to go on the record,” Wood said.

But not every county interprets the law the same way.

In Palm Beach County, people who call the shelter to report cases of animal abuse or neglect can remain anonymous, said David Walesky, the shelter’s assistant director.

“There’s tons of interpretations across the state and they’re not all consistent,” said Walesky, who served as executive director of the Florida Animal Control Association last year when Senate Bill 60 was making its way through the legislative process. “Across the state different jurisdictions are interpreting the law differently. There may be an effort to try to clarify that next year.”

Animal abuse complaint turns ugly after county outs caller. Broward blames state law for stripping away confidentiality. - NewsBreak (2)

‘It’s a terrible bill’

Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was the author of Senate Bill 60. Bradley could not be reached for comment despite several calls to her office.

It was unclear whether Bradley intended for the law to prevent people from filing reports of animal abuse anonymously.

One exception outlined in the law says the code inspector can investigate an anonymous complaint if they have reason to believe the violation presents an imminent threat to public health and safety.

The law has created confusion because Senate Bill 60 was badly written, said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeaster University.

“I think the real problem is Senate Bill 60 is not clear enough,” Jarvis said. “It’s a terrible bill. Senate bill 60 stripped away confidentiality for no good reason. The county is being prudent. I would advise the shelter they are in a gray area and to comply with Senate Bill 60 until a court tells them otherwise.”

Michelle Ramer-Benoit, a Coral Springs animal lover who runs Dogtoli Dogs Rescue, says she used to make anonymous complaints all the time about perceived animal abuse. She has also posted about possible animal abuse cases and urged other people to call the authorities.

That’s what she did on June 29, when a friend told her about the dog in the crate. Her post got 146 shares and 120 comments.

Fear of retaliation

“I’d like to know who passed that law,” she told the Sun Sentinel. “With the way the world is today, they’ll just come over and shoot you for calling about their dog. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s crazy.”

Simmons says she found the man’s response scary but took some comfort in the fact that she’s from out of town.

“I want to be a voice for the voiceless and I want to protect animals, babies, the weak,” she said. “To me, their well being is more important than mine. Right now, this guy is just calling and texting. If I live right around the corner, it’s much easier for him to harass me in person. I would be terrified. This is a dog eat dog world right now.”

The nasty voicemails left for Simmons made the rounds among animal activists.

Meredith Bruder, a longtime activist from Delray Beach, heard them and worried about the impact it would have on animal abuse complaints.

“This is going to lead to more animals being left in inhumane conditions. I have a real problem with that. It means people won’t speak up because of fear of retaliation.”

[ RELATED: Killer of Ollie the pit bull to get 10 years for stabbing dog, trapping him in suitcase ]

Ana Campos, an animal activist from Fort Lauderdale, agreed.

“People are already afraid to report animal abuse,” Campos said. “This is having a chilling effect on people willing to report animal abuse. Child abuse and elder abuse complaints and 911 calls are anonymous. Animal abuse complaints should be, too. We’re talking about reporting crimes.”

Activists are urging people who want to report allegations of animal abuse to contact Crime Stoppers at 954-493-8477, where tipsters can remain anonymous.

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow had sharp words for Broward County officials and their strict interpretation of the law.

“The county is worried about getting sued because they didn’t take an anonymous complaint?” she said. “They are the county. Get sued. That law is as clear as mud. They’re using it as an excuse to hide. I think they need to clarify this law before they try to interpret it. They need to get an opinion from the Attorney General.”

Simmons says she too would like to see the law clarified, but would do it all over again.

“I don’t even live down there,” she said. “But if someone in Texas asks me to call animal control, I’m going to call. I will happily make whatever phone calls are needed. Abuse of an animal is abuse.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan

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