Animal welfare advocates are crediting coronavirus-connected community lockdowns and social distancing with a reduced number of animal cruelty crimes reported in some jurisdictions. In response, they’re preparing to answer a surge in animal cruelty crime reports after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

According to animal welfare advocate Tinia Creamer, founder and president of Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, in West Virginia, reports of suspected animal cruelty traditionally rise in the spring.

“The time between March and May is usually the busiest time of the year for us because horses are coming off the winter,” and reports of malnourished horses start to flow in, Creamer said. “Currently, the number of calls is down because of the coronavirus, but that does not mean that the horses are not there.”

That’s because the individuals who would report suspected cruelty have had their movement restricted, said Jim Boller, executive director of Code 3 Associates, which trains law enforcement personnel, animal welfare investigators, veterinarians, and others to spot and respond to animal welfare cases.

“People are just not out as much,” Boller said. “They’re not seeing it, and they are not reporting it.”

In response to the decrease, some jurisdictions have redirected resources that would have been used in animal cruelty responses to general law enforcement activities. Others have placed animal cruelty crime investigations on the back burner altogether, said animal welfare advocate Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action.

“We had some specific trouble with the pandemic as a factor last week, when my colleagues in one state couldn’t even get the police to help with (an animal welfare) call,” Irby said. “Basically, the police told us that the call wasn’t important enough to deal with.”

Still, most animal welfare investigators remain on the job, even in jurisdictions that are prioritizing cases differently. Complications can arise when cases get bottlenecked at the court level, said Creamer.

“The problem has not been carrying out the investigations, the problem has been getting warrants because the courts are closed,” she said. “So the process is getting longer.”

In any case, investigators believe the decline is reports is only temporary, and they are bracing for an influx of cases once COVID-19 movement restrictions are lifted and the pandemic’s real impact on cash-strapped horse owners is revealed.

“Economically, people who have livestock can’t afford feed,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re going into the summer, and pastures are coming back.”

Economics aside, Boller said he wonders what else might threaten the already challenged animal welfare system.

“I fear what will happen if there is a major event – a disaster such as a hurricane,” he said. “Resources are already stretched so thin. I think we have not seen the real effect of this yet.”