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New Systems Help to Address Animal Cruelty

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 - 9:19 AM
New systems help to address animal cruelty
By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff

Tuesday, August 26
BRATTLEBORO -- Reporting suspected animal cruelty can often be a convoluted and ultimately frustrating process for many people.
In Brattleboro, residents can call the police, which assigns cases to the town's animal control officer. It's not that simple in other towns that don't have a designated person to investigate reports of animal cruelty.

Many people call the Vermont State Police, the Windham County Sheriff's Department or the Windham County Humane Society and then wonder what, if anything, was done to investigate their complaints.

People who report animal cruelty often feel as if they are getting the run-around because of that, said Jill Tucker, the humane enforcement consultant from CrossPaw Solutions.

Tucker is in charge of implementing a statewide program called the Cruelty Response System.

"The project is an unprecedented statewide effort bringing together all of the necessary parties to ensure our animal welfare laws are enforced," she said.

As part of the response system, Tucker helped set up Reportanimalcruelty.com, a project of the Vermont Humane Federation and the Humane Society of the United States.

Using the Web site, people can enter complaints that are then disseminated immediately to the leading enforcement and investigative agencies in each county, said Tucker.

"Enter everything they know about the situation and get that into the appropriate hands as quickly


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as possible."
Reportanimalcruelty.com has three links -- one to file a complaint, another which leads to a list of lead agencies, and a third which connects people to Vermont's animal welfare laws.

The Cruelty Response System means more work for the staff and volunteers at the Windham County Humane Society, said Esther Behling, operations coordinator. But at the same time, it makes the whole process more efficient by helping to track cases and conduct follow up investigations. It also serves to reassure complainants that their concerns are being taken seriously, she said.

"We are able to do more now," said Behling. "It takes some uncertainty out of the process."

The local Humane Society is always in need of volunteers to help around the facility on Route 30, said Behling, and the new program means it will need even more help. Volunteers are also needed to open their doors as foster families to care for animals until they can be adopted, she said.

The Cruelty Response System is modeled after one that has been in effect in Addison County for the past four years and makes available to all humane and law enforcement agencies a Web-based case management system to insure no single organization or individual is overburdened and that every abused or neglected animal receives help, said Tucker.

While the system works well for nonemergencies, if people spot a situation that needs to be resolved immediately, they should be contacting the local police agency, she said.

Around Vermont, nearly 350 reports are received each and every month, all requiring investigation, said Tucker, and 40 to 50 percent end up being unsubstantiated or unprosecutable under Vermont law.

"A small percentage are going to wind up needing police officers."

The largest number of reported cases pertain to dogs, followed by equines and then cats. But it's not limited to those three types of animals, said Tucker. Goats, cows and pigs are also subject to animal cruelty.

The maximum penalty for misdemeanor animal cruelty is one year in jail or a fine of $2,000 or both for a first offense. Second and subsequent misdemeanor convictions can yield a sentence up to two years in prison and/or a fine up to $5,000.

Aggravated animal cruelty is a felony and is punishable by a maximum three-year prison sentence and/or a $5,000 fine. Second and subsequent convictions on the felony charge carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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