Like any skilled investigator, Tre Smith follows up leads, collects evidence, pursues suspects and upholds the law — his clients just tend to have four legs instead of two.

As a senior agent and lead investigator for the Toronto Humane Society, Smith roots out incidents of animal cruelty and makes sure perpetrators get punished and animal victims get the care they deserve.

Animal cruelty is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, with punishments of hefty fines and up to five years in jail possible for the worst offenders, making investigators like Smith an important part of law enforcement.

Despite all the terrible things he sees on the job — pets who have been beaten, stabbed, punched, hit with hammers or just left in life-threatening heat inside a car — Smith, 38, says all of it is worth it for the chance to rescue animals in need.

“It’s a horrible feeling to come across an animal in a bad situation. Emotionally, your guts inside are just churning but the best thing about my job is to see that animal walk out the front door, wagging its tail, going home with a family that’s going to give it the love it deserves. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment,” Smith said.

Smith’s office gets 4,000 calls and tip-offs each year about potential animal cruelty and while he says some end up being revenge calls from ex-spouses or disgruntled neighbours, the majority end up being legitimate. His most famous case, which garnered media attention two summers ago, involved a Rottweiler named Cyrus who was locked inside a car in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, which a Good Samaritan reported.

When Smith arrived he found the dog slumped over, foaming at the mouth and minutes away from death inside a car that read 73 degrees Celsius on Smith’s handheld temperature gauge. Smith smashed the window to get the dog out and the owner eventually plead guilty to animal cruelty. Cyrus has since recovered and now lives with a foster family.

Smith’s uniform is not just for show — along with pepper spray and a baton he carries for defence, the bullet-proof Kevlar vest he wears reveals a more dangerous side to his job than many people would expect.

“When I roll up to tell somebody to do something with their dog, it’s not always warmly received,” Smith said.

Smith got his law and criminology degree from York University and worked volunteer law enforcement and private security positions for years before joining the Humane Society as an investigator. As an avid animal lover and dog owner himself, he says keeping animals safe is something that runs in his blood.

“It’s a calling in life that’s hard to explain to those who don’t have it. You just know you’re doing something right,” he said.

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