In the wake of a spate of highly publicized cases of animal cruelty, Baltimore has created a task force to curb such crimes.

Mayor Sheila Dixon announced Tuesday the creation of the Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, a group including representatives from city offices, the police, the state's attorney's office, animal welfare organizations and city residents.

Over a year, the task force will assess the effectiveness of Baltimore's cruelty laws and brainstorm ways to raise awareness of animal abuse. It will also consider ways city agencies and animal advocates can better coordinate their efforts.

The task force will issue recommendations to the mayor.

"The protection and safety of animals in this city is an important concern," Dixon said. "It's imperative we treat this issue with the upmost importance."

The first meeting will be at 6 p.m. July 15 at City Hall - though it won't be open to the public. Task force chairwoman Caroline Griffin, an attorney who's on the board of Baltimore's Humane Society, said the public will, however, be welcome at some future meetings.

In May, someone doused a pit bull puppy with gasoline and set it on fire in Southwest Baltimore. The dog, who came to be known as Phoenix, was soon euthanized because of the extensive injuries and people raised more than $26,000 to find out who did it. Teenage twins were eventually charged as juveniles in the case.

In June, two cats were found within two weeks in the same Northwest Baltimore neighborhood, burned, beaten and tied to a school fence. No one has been arrested.

Christine Muldowney, a social worker from Lauraville, is one of two citizens joining the effort. As she's been all over town for her job, she says she's seen for years the grim evidence of abused dogs and cats.

"I've seen the bodies," she said, adding that she hopes this will be a way to pull something positive from the death of Phoenix.

Dixon said the public should call 311 if they see suspected animal abuse.

"We just keep receiving case after case. and not a lot is getting done," says Jennifer Mead-Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter Inc., where Phoenix was first treated.

One thing Mead-Brause plans to start immediately is tracking abuse cases in the city.

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