November 10, 2010
The Humane Touch: Profile of Adam Parascandola
Adam Parascandola is director of animal cruelty issues for HSUS
by James Hettinger
Adam Parascandola had to watch the disturbing images again and again: employees at the Bushway Packing slaughterhouse in Vermont kicking veal calves, cursing at them, and shocking them with an electric prod.
As The HSUS's director of animal cruelty issues, Parascandola believed the footage—recorded last fall by an HSUS undercover investigator—revealed acts that violated Vermont's cruelty code. A successful prosecution, he knew, would depend on his ability to demonstrate that the behavior fell outside the realm of common practices sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And to pursue a felony charge, he'd have to show malicious intent.
So he kept his eyes glued to the video. Though USDA regulations prohibit excessive use of electric prods on downed animals, the footage showed a worker shocking a downed calf 11 times; a second calf was shocked eight times, picked up and dropped, shocked five more times, then kicked. "I was counting up every shock to be able to show that this is really excessive," says Parascandola.
The evidence helped persuade the Vermont attorney general to charge a Bushway worker with felony aggravated cruelty; the worker and one of the plant's owners were also charged with cruelty misdemeanors. The USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture shuttered the slaughterhouse.
Though it was Parascandola's first major farm animal case since joining The HSUS in 2009, he's had plenty to keep him busy. So far this year, he and his staff have rescued nearly 2,000 animals from hoarding and other cases of neglect, coordinating with HSUS investigators and emergency services teams to respond to complaints. Parascandola's knowledge of the law, combined with his field experience, made his hiring "quite a coup," says Ann Chynoweth, senior director of The HSUS's Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign.
But for this former humane officer and shelter director, effectiveness stems from something less tangible—and more rare—than book learning and street smarts. "He was always sort of famous for going above and beyond with the people involved in his casework," says HSUS colleague and friend Cory Smith, who worked with Parascandola at the Washington Humane Society. As the director of the shelter's law enforcement efforts, Parascandola befriended a woman while investigating complaints about her petkeeping, Smith recalls. Instead of removing the animals and forgetting about her, Parascandola provided years of support. "He took her grocery shopping, and he picked her up from the hospital and visited her in the hospital until the day she died," Smith says. "He is just that kind of person."
This summer, Parascandola led a rescue at a Montana property with nearly 100 dogs, most of whom had never been outside; some had chewed through the walls. The owner, whose wife had died, was sleeping on feces-encrusted boards and hadn't left the property in years. With no phone and no transportation, the man and his animals relied on food from a neighbor."Everybody, I think, was very moved by the situation," Parascandola says.
Allowed to keep four dogs whom rescuers had spayed and neutered, the man also received food, a sleeping bag, and a pillow; the local sheriff planned a clothing drive and arranged help from adult protective services. "My hope is that once things get cleaned up ... he'll be able to recognize that actually this is a better way to live," says Parascandola.
To prevent recidivism, many hoarding cases end up in court. Parascandola's gentle touch inspires trust. "Even if you are going in with a warrant and you're removing the animals under the authority of the law and you're prosecuting people, you still have to be compassionate with people," he says.
Law enforcement agencies unfamiliar with cruelty cases or unable to seize large numbers of animals often turn to The HSUS for help. To ensure wise use of resources, Parascandola inquires about probable cause, state cruelty codes, and authorities' plans for gaining custody of the animals. It's a role he relishes, knowing he's helping animals and local agencies not just in one city but nationwide. "For me," he says, "it's totally a dream job."