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New system created to report abuse of animals

Posted on Oct 7, 2008 - 11:30 AM
New system created to report abuse of animals

October 6, 2008

By Brent Curtis Herald Staff

If a child is being abused, most people know how to recognize it and who to call.

But if an animal is being abused or neglected, Humane Society officials in Vermont say many observers aren't sure if what they're seeing constitutes abuse or who to contact if they have concerns.

Humane Society officials are hoping a new reporting and tracking system will make it easier for residents to identify and report abuse.

Dubbed the Cruelty Response System, the new approach combines a high-tech database that tracks complaints and cases with a reporting system that eliminates confusion by giving callers in each county one agency to call.

"For years and years there's been confusion about who to call," said Jill Tucker, a humane enforcement consultant for the Vermont Humane Federation. "Now, there's one place to call and a database that allows multiple agencies to keep track of cases they didn't have access to before."

Tucker worked for months helping to install the new system which agencies all around the state have been using for at least the last two months.

Now, she said her efforts have turned towards educating the public about the tools at their disposal.

In Windsor County, that means getting the word out that the Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society is the organization to call with animal cruelty complaints.

In the few months that it's been used at the Lucy Mackenzie shelter, the new reporting and tracking system has had positive results, according to Heidi Edmunds, the shelter's director.

"It's been working great," she said. "It's a lot easier to track cases and to search out prior offenses. Some people move from county to county. With the new system, we can track them."

Most of the organizations acting as lead agencies in each county are humane societies. In Rutland, Windham, Addison and Washington counties, for example, the lead agencies are the Rutland County Humane Society, the Windham County Humane Society, the Addison County Humane Society and the Central Vermont Humane Society respectively.

Reports of animal cruelty can also be made on the Web site created as part of the new tracking system. By logging on to www.reportanimalcruelty.com, Tucker said complaints can be submitted electronically. While the site asks for the name and contact information of the person submitting a complaint, Tucker said the investigators only use the information to contact the complainant for details. She said the name of the person who filed a complaint isn't revealed to the person under investigation.

"If people give us their name, it will be kept confidential," she said. "The only time we reveal who called us is by subpoena or if the person volunteers to testify."

Also on the group's Web site are links to information about Vermont's animal cruelty laws.

Neglect is at the center of most cruelty complaints, Tucker said, but recognizing neglect can be hard.

Failing to provide food, water, shelter, sanitation or medical services to an animal in need qualifies as neglect. An animal with a broken leg that isn't treated by a veterinarian, for example, is neglect on the part of the owner, she said. A more subtle type of neglect one often overlooked by horse owners, Tucker said revolves around shelter.

Horses put out to pasture without a lean-to shelter are being neglected under the law, Tucker said.

Conversely, one of the most common complaints of neglect oftentimes doesn't violate state law.

"The most common mistaken complaint we get involve a dog chained to a doghouse," she said. "It's sad if the animal is always on a chain, but it's not illegal as long as the animal's needs are met and the chain is at least four times the length of the dog's body."

Contact Brent Curtis at brent.curtis@rutlandherald.com.


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