There are moments that both define and change the trajectory of our lives. For Martha Smith-Blackmore, DVM, it was the moment she laid eyes on Puppy Doe.
As a shelter veterinarian, Smith-Blackmore had seen her share of neglect and abuse, but nothing prepared her for the cruelty she witnessed in 2013, when she was asked to perform an animal autopsy, or necropsy, on a puppy that had been tortured and abandoned at a playground in Quincy, Massachusetts. The dog had no identification, so she named her “Puppy Doe.”
She was stabbed in the eye, starved, and disfigured from abuse, as many of her joints had been pulled apart. Her tongue was split and she suffered over a dozen broken bones. Despite her unimaginable pain, her spirit had not been broken and she gladly accepted a meal from the rescuer who found her. Tragically, her injuries were insurmountable and she could not be saved. While necropsies typically take a few hours, Smith-Blackmore spent nearly two days cataloguing her extensive injuries.
When the case finally went to trial several years later, Smith-Blackmore helped secure a conviction against her abuser, Radoslaw Czerkawski, and was a passionate and eloquent advocate in detailing Puppy Doe’s suffering. In addition to testifying about her examination, she submitted an impact statement urging the court to consider “how deliberately she was hurt; how many times she was injured and in how many different ways, how long she suffered during her prolonged betrayal, torment and torture at the hands of the defendant” and she implored the court to sentence Czerkawski accordingly. While the judge stated she did not consider the impact statement in imposing her sentence, she did not strike it either, and ordered Czerkawski to serve an additional 8 – 10 years, on top of the 6 – 12 year sentence he was serving for stealing from a church and the elderly woman he was paid to care for. It was a meaningful and substantial sentence, as the guidelines called for only 18 months in jail.
Puppy Doe haunted Smith-Blackmore and interrupted her dreams. She sought to further her expertise in forensics and left her lucrative job as Director of Veterinary Medical Services at the Animal Rescue League of Boston and pursued a fellowship in the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Massachusetts. She also started a consulting business, Forensic Veterinary Investigations, LLC, and law enforcement officials and prosecutors from around the country now call on her for crime scene investigations, document review, and necropsies. She has been an expert witness in several high-profile cases, including one in our own backyard against former Ravens player Terrence Cody and his girlfriend, Kourtney Kelley.
Cody’s dog Taz, a Presa Canario, had lost half his body weight. Smith-Blackmore testified that Taz did not suffer a natural or accidental death, but rather, had been denied adequate nutrition for at least a month, while trapped in a filthy, cramped crate in Cody’s garage. Prosecutor Adam Lippe, our only Softie prosecutor, obtained justice for Taz, after the court convicted Cody and his girlfriend of animal cruelty and sentenced them both to jail.
While the case had its challenges, a vet tech reported the abuse to the authorities and the identity of his abusers was known. It is more difficult to obtain animal cruelty convictions in cases involving stray and abandoned animals. As the former Chair of the Baltimore Anti-Animal Abuse Commission, I remember my frustration over the frequent lack of justice when injured animals were found in abandoned buildings or on the street. Necropsies — much less arrests and prosecutions — rarely occurred in these cases. Smith-Blackmore is on a quest to ensure these victims are given a voice.
She recently created The Animal Doe Project to provide forensic veterinary services in cases involving unidentified animals who are suspected victims of cruelty. The Project seeks to fill the gap for these cases by raising funds for investigations when agencies lack resources or experience in solving these crimes. She and her impressive team can help determine if an animal cruelty crime has been committed, which may lead to an arrest and prosecution or, at a minimum, help authorities avert future crime.
Animal cruelty humbles us in its severity and frequency and makes us feel helpless. Yet, it is imperative we do our utmost to hold these abusers accountable, as they are emboldened when they get away scot-free with their crimes. There is good reason the Animal League Defense Fund named Smith-Blackmore one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders earlier this year, as she’s been a lifelong champion of animals. Her latest effort, The Animal Doe Project, is one of the most effective initiatives we’ve encountered for stopping animal cruelty, as it seeks justice where it is most lacking – for victims with no voice and no name.
Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore and Forensic Veterinary Investigations, LLC have teamed up with Chappy & Friends, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, so that contributions to The Animal Doe Project are tax-deductible. If you care about stopping animal cruelty, please spread the word about this important initiative and donate if you are able.