“We’re Their Voice:” Animal Cruelty Investigators in Vermont Hone Skills

A series of classes is underway to help strengthen responses to reports of suspected animal neglect or cruelty

A series of classes is underway in Vermont, with a goal of strengthening responses to reports of suspected animal cruelty or neglect. The course, which was developed by the Humane Society of the United States, is comprised of 32 hours of classroom time and on-site practice, said Joanne Bourbeau of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, participants including animal control officers, horse trainers, advocates, municipal health officials, and others, were at a farm in Tinmouth practicing how to respond to calls for help for suffering animals. Police agencies often ask for help from volunteer humane agents, Bourbeau explained, so those folks need to know how search warrants work, how to assist in documenting a scene, and how to best approach the situations.

A few recent cases in Vermont revealed emaciated or sick animals, especially horses, that needed to be seized from their owners and placed elsewhere. "There's a lot of animals out there that need our help," said Peggy Murray, a horse trainer who participated in Wednesday's on-site training.

Murray said she wanted to know how to best be of assistance in case police ever ask her to help them handle animals they're investigating as possible victims of neglect or cruelty. "We're they're voice; we're making sure they're taken care of," Murray said of animals.

Bourbeau said there are between 8-9,000 reports of suspected animal neglect or cruelty every year in Vermont. Of course, not all of those are substantiated, she noted, and only a small number result in serious court action. Bourbeau said the number of reports is up, in large part because of more options for anonymous reporting.

The website ReportAnimalCruelty.com is available to Vermonters who want to express concerns about animals in their communities they feel may not be well-cared for. Other reports go to police agencies and town officials, Bourbeau noted.

Inadequate food or shelter are among the most common topics of reports, Bourbeau said, especially during extreme weather. "I would like everyone to feel confident and to make a report," Bourbeau told New England Cable News. "It'll be investigated and there will be some resolution to the case."

Officer Malicia Lynds of the Fair Haven Police Dept. said she has responded to many of the complaints in Rutland County for the past four years through a previous job at the Rutland County Sheriff's Dept. She told NECN the biggest part of the job is just educating people how to properly care for the animals that can't care for themselves.

"To make sure the animals get a fair shot," Lynds said, explaining her goal in such responses. "They can't go down to the store and buy their food. They're reliant on the people who are caring for them to do a good job. And when they don't, they suffer."

With public awareness rising, Lynds said she expects more reports, so called training like Wednesday's exercises “critical” to the welfare of animals in Vermont. 

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