(Host) Vermont’s Agriculture Agency has long been responsible for investigating cases of suspected animal abuse or neglect on farms.
But due to staff shortages and organizational reshuffling, the agency now tells people who call with allegations of abuse to contact their local humane society or law enforcement first.
As VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, the change is straining humane societies and Vermont cities and towns.
(Carapezza) The small staff at the Chittenden County Humane Society has been racing to keep up with a flood of calls ever since the change.
Tom Ayers is president.
(Ayers) "We’ve always played a role in the large animal or livestock investigations. So // it’s just that the lead role has been taken by the state and now that piece is out of the equation and it’s falling to the local humane societies to pick up the slack."
(Carapezza) The state’s now relying much more heavily on both humane societies and cities and towns.
In Windham County, for example, the town of Rockingham is debating whether to hire the county sheriff to manage its animal control issues.
On these hot summer days farm animals need extra shade and water, so Chittenden County humane agent JoAnn Nichols is extra vigilant.
(Nichols) "Hello? Hello?"
(Carapezza4) At one farm, Nichols is looking into an abuse allegation involving some sheep and dogs.
(Nichols) "It doesn’t appear that anybody is around."
Since nobody’s home, Nichols will have to return later to speak with the owners.
But in plain view, she can see two Labradors chained up and exposed to the midday sun.
(Nichols) "I mean, it’s OK that they’re tied out – they have access to water. They really don’t have the appropriate shelter that they need, though."
(Carapezza) Driving back to the humane society, Nichols says she now spends twice as much time on field visits – nearly 20 hours each week.
She says she’s not overwhelmed, yet. But with more and more calls coming in, she can see how that might easily happen by taking her away from her other duties.
(Nichols) "When time is really limited to do investigation work, a lot of times the complete follow through all the way to the end can fall through the cracks."
(Carapezza) Doctor Kristin Haas, the state veterinarian, concedes that the state’s role has shifted but she thinks it shouldn’t be a problem.
(Kristen) "Over the last six months or so we in the agency have taken the opportunity to assess the management of alleged animal cruelty or neglect cases. We’ve looked at this to ensure the cases are managed quickly and efficiently and in a manner that’s consistent with our statutory authority and, equally importantly, in the best interest of the animals at hand."
(Carapezza) For now, Haas wants Vermonters to call their local humane societies or law enforcement – or use a new Web-based application monitored by the state to report suspected abuse or cruelty to animals.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza
With the state recalibrating its role in animal control cases, how is your community dealing with it? Join the discussion by posting your comments below.