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Mount Clemens — Macomb County officials announced Monday the formation of a task force to combat animal abuse and cruelty.

County Prosecutor Eric Smith, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and others said they are combining efforts to bring attention to animal welfare and prosecute animal abusers.

Smith noted the formation of PAWS — Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety — comes less than a month after the sentencing of a Macomb County man, Alexander Gerth, who stabbed his 2-year-old pit bull multiple times and left the dog for dead in a Utica park in January.

Gerth, who pleaded guilty to felony animal abuse, was sentenced to three to six years in prison.

“That was the worst and most brutal case of animal abuse,” said Smith. “It has helped bring attention to the need for more involvement.

“I can tell you how to prosecute a murder or a home invasion, but I am not smart enough to do that with animal abuse cases,” the prosecutor said. “For that, I need the help of animal welfare advocates.”

Beside the Gerth case, Macomb County authorities have dealt with several incidents recently involving the hoarding of dogs and cats. They include the discoveries of 43 dogs in crates stacked in a Roseville garage, 53 dogs inside a Sterling Heights home and 88 cats inside a Mt. Clemens house.

Officials said animals were dehydrated, living in filthy conditions and, in many cases, required care for injuries. At least one dog had to be euthanized.

Smith plans an animal protection unit within his office to focus on animal cruelty cases.

Officials said animal abuse complaints are up 76% in Macomb County, from 21 reported from 2015-17 to 38 reported since 2017.

Smith said it is unclear if the increase reflects more abuse cases or whether the public is less tolerant of incidents that may have once been viewed as acceptable, leading witnesses to report suspicions that animals are being mistreated.

“We want to investigate these cases just like we would any crime,” said Wickersham. “We need the public’s help to do that.”

Officials plan to have several meetings in the weeks ahead to formulate a countywide effort to train workers at local, county and state agencies to identify and prosecute offenders.

Smith stressed there will be “zero tolerance” for animal cruelty in Macomb County."

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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