MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (FOX 2) - Macomb County is taking a stand against animal abuse.
It was the case of "unbelievable cruelty" in the March killing of a dog named Sterling, stabbed to death by a Utica man that sparked the new county task force.
The murder of Sterling brought police, prosecutors, animal advocates and lawmakers together Monday as Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith made an announcement to stop and hopefully, prevent animal abuse and cruelty.
"The only silver lining in this case is that I've never seen anything bring a community together like Sterling has," he said.
The Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety -- or PAWS Task Force -- made up so far of three assistant prosecutors -- two of which work in the county's domestic violence unit.
"There's a direct correlation between animal abuse and the abuse of women and children," Smith said.
Last month a judge condemned 23-year-old Alexander Gerth, sentencing him to three to six years in prison for torturing and killing Sterling, his two-year-old pit bull mix.
Gerth stabbed him three times. Sterling was left alone in a cold park in January, bleeding to death.
"This kid was just fixated on killing this dog and his friend got it for him," said Sen. Michael McDonald. "And his friend isn't going to get anything. We can't have it happen ever again."
Macomb County prosecutors say over the past two years they've seen a 76 percent increase in the number of cases involving animal abuse.
The severity of the abuse and the number of animals impacted has also been increasing. Perhaps, animal advocates say, it's because the community is no longer tolerating it.
"People are more concerned with animal abuse and more tuned into these issues than they have been in the past," said Molly Tamulevich, Michigan state director, Humane Society of the United States.
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Dog found violently killed at Utica park
The new task force is aimed at training officers, prosecutors, lawmakers and the community to better find, and prosecute those who abuse.
"Pets do have rights as people do and as a result, don't take on the responsibility of letting a pet live with you if you don't call it your family member," said Sen. Pete Lucido. "Don't do it."
If you suspect an animal is being abused or neglected contact the PAWS Task Force at (586) 469-6701.