NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The town’s two part-time animal control officers are now working under the auspices of the police department and plan to be more proactive and visible in the community.
Changes to the way animal control complains are handled stem from complaints the town has heard, according to Police Chief Paul Doucette. As a result, the $15,000 budget for the town’s officers has been moved into the police budget and the officers will now report directly to the chief, he said.
"We’ve received some criticism from different people in our community about the response of animal control. People are concerned that they leave a message and they get a phone call and animal control doesn’t necessarily respond," Doucette said. "Well, we’re going to change all of that."
Animal control efforts in the past included more funding and a vehicle that was used to round up loose dogs and patrol. Doucette said budget cuts over the years reduced funding.
"With budget cuts and things like that we’ve seen that go away. Animal control has been reduced to part-time," he said. "At some point, the Select Board decided they were going to reduce the funding for animal control."
A police vehicle is expected to be decommissioned and used for animal control by mid-July. That will allow Animal Control Officers Sarah Lacroix and Jennifer Billert to be more easily identified in public, Doucette said.
Some complaints will continue to be handled over the phone, according to Doucette. But, residents should expect that "animal control is going to be more visible in the community," he said.
Lacroix, who has served in the position for three years, and Billert, who has served for about one month, will also be wearing marked clothing and identification cards.
"They will easily be able to be identified. They’re going to have clothing that identifies them as animal control officers," Doucette said. "They have police department identification cards now that have been issued."
Billert said she and Lacroix will be focusing on ensuring that local residents obtain dog licenses. The licenses can help them easily identify animals and track vaccinations.
Dog licensing is not about revenue for the town, Doucette said. Rather, it helps ensure that dogs are properly vaccinated and can be traced if dogs are found to be running free.
"I plan to have the animal control officers work closely with the town clerk’s office Š to make sure that people are licensing their dogs. It’s not about the revenue. It’s more that we want to make sure that your dog is licensed because you can’t get your dog licensed unless you meet certain criteria," he said.
Tracking lost dogs is an issue, according to Billert. She said owners should contact Animal Control immediately when their dog is missing. The animal may have already been found and picked up, but owners often believe a dog will return on its own. That can have negative consequences, she said.
"The town of Bennington only allows us to hold a dog for five days. After five business days, if you don’t claim your dog, there’s not anywhere to put these dogs. So, your dog has a chance of being euthanized," she said.
Owners whose dogs have run off by accident are not likely to be fined for allowing the dog to run loose if it is reported promptly, according to Doucette.
"We are here to help them. If they just simply call us and say, ‘Hey, look, my dog ran off,’ it’s a lot easier to use discretion when you consider issuing someone Š a complaint because their dog is running free," he said. "If your dog slips its collar or breaks the chain or the lead that it’s on, just let us know. We’re not looking to go our and write everyone a Vermont municipal violation complaint."
Any emergency situation requiring immediate assistance should go through the police department. In other situations, complaints or concerns should still be reported by calling Animal Control, Doucette said.