Photo Courtesy of Angela N., Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Angela N., Flickr

For several decades, animal rights organizations have provided a voice to the animals that couldn’t speak up for themselves. The fight against animal cruelty is ongoing, and despite new regulations, many animals are still kept in abusive conditions worldwide. One of the best ways to catch the offenders and put an end to the cruelty is by gathering video evidence of inhumane situations. Many of these animal rights organizations have begun hiring private investigators to do surveillance on locations that have been rumored to be abusive.

A Voice for those Who Have None

In 2009, TIME ran an article about a private eye who went undercover at a hog farm. The investigator, who went by the name “Pete”, gave up his dream of becoming a cop and left behind his family and friends to pursue a career as an animal rights investigator. His account of the farm and the ensuing court case were featured in an HBO documentary called Death on a Factory Farm. Thanks to his video evidence, Pete has been able to uncover horrible conditions at farms and factories of all kinds throughout the country. According to him, the worst was chicken farms, where barely living hens were tossed into the trash after having their necks broken.

Farms aren’t the only places being targeted by investigators and organizations alike. The Ringling Bros. Circus and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been in an ongoing battle over claims of animal abuse. PETA has launched its own investigation into the circus, documenting video footage of circus staff beating elephants and gathering witness accounts from past circus employees. Aquariums and zoos have also been in the news after documentaries like Blackfish brought abuse at SeaWorld to the public’s eye. Zoos, kennels, and even private homes are also hot spots that may require an investigation.

Doing it the Right Way

Often, the people who look into these claims and infiltrate businesses aren’t investigators at all. And when someone who’s inexperienced in the field of investigation goes undercover, there’s the potential for serious consequences. Consider the story of Taylor Radig, an animal right’s activist who went undercover at a cattle company in Denver, Colorado. Radig was a contractor for Compassion Over Killing, an organization dedicated to uncovering and preventing animal cruelty. Her investigation was centered around gathering video evidence at the cattle farm. During her time there, Radig witnessed workers pushing and shoving day old calves, a clear sign of animal abuse. Once she presented authorities with her proof, those workers were charged with cruelty to animals. However, Radig soon found herself charged with the Class 1 misdemeanor as well, because she had neglected to report the abuse as soon as she had seen it.

Taylor Radig isn’t the only person to be charged with the very abuse she was trying to prevent, and she certainly won’t be the last. Some states have laws that require cruelty to be reported immediately, and those who view it and fail to tell authorities in time are just as guilty as the offenders. That’s why it’s important to hire someone who is experienced in the field. Even Pete, the private eye who investigated the hog farm, was unlicensed at the time of the article. He and others like him run the risk of criminal charges and lawsuits if they get caught, and the evidence might not hold up in court as well if it was obtained illegally.

For these reasons, several animal rights groups have decided that simply having an organization member go undercover isn’t enough. These groups are dealing with big companies, and investigations require careful planning that are performed according to the law. Hiring a licensed, experienced investigator who is familiar with the law can ensure that this video evidence is collected in a safe matter. After all, a court battle involving an amateur investigator takes away time and attention from the true victims here: the animals.