Lawmakers look to make it easier to seize abused animals


Animal rescuers sometimes ignore cases of abuse and neglect because they can't afford to care for the animals, a humane society director told lawmakers this week.

The legal process of civil forfeiture of animals makes it time-consuming and prohibitively expensive to care for animals that should be taken away from abusive or neglectful owners, said Ann Ward of the Central Vermont Humane Society.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill intended to streamline the civil forfeiture process for animals, a change pushed by the Department of Public Safety and the Humane Society of the United States. Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, is the sponsor of S.237.

The latest draft of the bill also directs the Department of Corrections to explore creating an animal training or adoption program in prison for seized animals.

Civil forfeiture court proceeding often drags on for months, Ward said. The animal often needs substantial veterinary care, which the shelter cannot perform because it isn't the legal owner.

Ward described a case of a poodle found plowed into a snowbank that the humane society seized. The dog's hair was dried into its eyes, it was incontinent, had massive infections and its teeth fell out when they opened its mouth, she said.

The Central Vermont Humane Society kept the dog for six months with no forfeiture hearing and could only do "patchwork" veterinary care, Ward said, because they didn't have permanent custody.

"With the situation as it is, with us not knowing when a forfeiture hearing is coming, with even a single dog costing thousands of dollars and months worth of time we simply can't act when it comes to cases of animal cruelty," Ward said, especially in cases of large animals such as horses.

"Cases that we were involved in nearly bankrupted us," she said. They now only seize animals in the worst cases, she said.

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette told the committee about the case of Larry Mason, a man found hoarding 32 German shepherds, many sick or dead, on a school bus. That case cost Bennington $42,000, he said.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said he would like people convicted of animal cruelty to be put on a registry similar to the child and elder abuse registry. People who abuse animals are more likely to abuse people, he said.

Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, objected, saying that could unfairly bar someone from getting a job.

Amy Davenport, chief administrative judge for the Vermont courts, also testified, saying the type of forfeiture hearing the bill creates could be lengthy and complex.

Bram Kranichfeld, executive director of the State's Attorneys and Sheriffs' Association, said the bill would actually make the process more defined and like a summary proceeding.

"That alone can be immensely helpful," he said.

His goal, he said, is to have the forfeiture process simple enough that state's attorneys will file for forfeiture.


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