The SPCA of Niagara presented its 2019 Taylor Award to Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek during its annual cocktail party and auction fundraiser Thursday night.
The award is named after Taylor’s Island, a rocky spot in the whirlpool rapids that was inhabited in the 1800s by unwanted dogs. The dogs were ultimately rescued by the selfless act of a teenage boy, who risked his life getting to the island.
The agency has called that act "the embodiment of the principles for which the Niagara SPCA stands."
"It is for this reason that the dogs of Taylor’s Island and the boy who saved them are remembered by awarding the Taylor Award to those who fight for animals who otherwise would have no voice and no advocates," SPCA of Niagara Executive Director Tim Brennan said.
Falls Police Animal Control Officer Dave Bower said Wojtaszek's office has been an important partner in prosecuting animal cruelty cases.
"The work of the DA's office and the (Niagara County) animal cruelty registry have been such a huge step forward," Bower said. "I can't say enough about the support we get from the (county) prosecutors."
In presenting the Taylor Award to Wojtaszek, the SPCA said they were honoring the district attorney's "dedication and commitment to animal anti-cruelty legislation and ensuring justice is delivered to those who abuse defenseless and innocent animals."
Wojtaszek said she was "humbled" and "honored" by the award.
"I first got involved in animal cruelty cases because of their close connection to domestic violence," Wojtaszek said. "In 70 percent of domestic violence cases, victims report their abusers have abused animals in the households."
The district attorney said defending the defenseless has been a driving force in her career.
"I started my career working to fight against the physical and sexual abuse fo women and children, essentially those who can not fight for themselves" Wojtaszek said. "Animals are an extension of that."
In the aftermath of a Gazette investigation that broke on New Year’s Day 2012, showing the agency was engaged in the mass killing of animals, much has changed at the Lockport Road shelter.
Since becoming a no-kill shelter in 2012, the agency has saved over 14,000 lives and treats approximately 3,000 animals per year.