One of the best ways to be prepared to investigate an animal-related complaint is to know the people in the area who deal with animals. Being proactive by networking and establishing communication and relationships with your local resources--before undertaking cruelty investigations--is worth the time and effort. When you receive an animal cruelty complaint, the following are people who can help you:
Humane Society Personnel; Animal Control Officers; Town Constables
You will find it helpful and sometimes necessary to enlist the assistance of the local humane society, animal control officer or town constable. They are often familiar with the people in the community and are aware of animal-related complaints that may have occurred in the past. In addition, they have or know of facilities to which seized animals can be taken. More importantly, many of them have the legal authority to function as humane officers themselves.
It is important to find out the capacity and capabilities of the local shelter to determine if it is able to accommodate extra animals or farm animals on an emergency basis. Even if the local shelter cannot accommodate an influx of animals, it may be able to enlist the aid of other shelters or individuals who can.
One of the people essential to the successful outcome of any cruelty investigation is the veterinarian you engage on the case. The importance of the veterinarian cannot be stressed enough. Under certain circumstances, Vermont law requires that a veterinarian must be present or consulted when animals are to be seized (Title 13, Section 354 (b) 2) or during inspections under a kennel permit (Title 20, Chapter 193, Section 3682).
Thus, as part of your contact effort, locate a few local veterinarians who would be willing to assist you with animal cruelty cases and provide you with sworn statements. Ensure that they understand that they may be required to testify in court at a later date regarding the condition of the animals. They are testifying as expert witnesses; thus, it would be helpful if they have testified in previous proceedings.
Veterinarians are more likely to get involved if their role is clearly defined and the expectations from them are realistic. The veterinarian’s role is to provide professional judgement in assessing the animal’s condition, assess the need for or the lack of veterinary care, make recommendations for proper care and husbandry, make medical diagnoses and, if necessary, provide veterinary treatment. The veterinarian is providing a professional service. It should not be assumed that veterinarians have any obligation to provide this service free of charge, although some will. Nor should the veterinarian be expected to lead the investigation or any law enforcement actions. Veterinarians are afforded protection from civil liability for reporting suspected cases of animal cruelty and accompanying humane investigators during investigations (Title 26, Section 2404).
Local Riding Academies, Stables, Farmers
Some cruelty complaints will involve large animals and farm animals. Humane officers are required by law to consult with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture before taking any enforcement action involving livestock and poultry (Title 13, Section 354 (a)). Under this law, the Agency can advise a humane officer as to whether certain behaviors are considered "accepted livestock and poultry husbandry practices" which are exempt from the definition of animal cruelty (See also Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Consulting with the Agency of Agriculture on Livestock Cruelty Investigations").
In some cases a problem might arise in removing the animals from the circumstances because many shelters do not have facilities to accommodate them. To be prepared ahead of time, become familiar with the stables, riding academies, and farmers in your area who are sympathetic to the plight of animals involved in animal cruelty complaints. Ask if they would be receptive to boarding such animals if the need should arise.
You might also find out who is responsible for the local fair grounds. Most fair grounds generally contain barns or large buildings on the property. You might ask if they could be used on a temporary basis if the need arises.
Large animal rescue organizations may also be able to help. (See also Appendix I, "Animal Shelters and Rescue Organizations in Vermont").
Local Law Enforcement
Local law enforcement agencies, which may include but are not limited to: State Police, county sheriffs’ departments, and municipal police, not only have the legal authority to function as humane officers, but are well-trained and equipped to assist with the application and execution of search warrants. They can also provide safety and personal protection to humane officers who may sometimes find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.