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BENNINGTON — The local animal center does not carry out criminal background checks in its efforts to find "a good fit" between pets and prospective new families, but seldom encounters abuse of adopted animals by their owners, according to the center's director.

The Bennington County Humane Society, better known as Second Chance Animal Center, receives about 1,000 adoption applications a year and denies 300 to 400 of them, Executive Director Cathi Comar said in an interview Thursday.

Last week, police accused a Sandgate woman of mortally wounding the dog that she and her husband adopted from Second Chance in November.

The woman, Joyce Cornell, 45, is facing two felony charges of aggravated cruelty to an animal. Her husband, who was convicted of aggravated domestic assault in 2013, is facing fresh charges of illegally possessing firearms, weapons that were discovered at his home the same day his pet dog was found bleeding in the yard.

According to court records, Joyce Cornell told Vermont State Police that she shot the dog twice with a pistol on the morning of Dec. 26 after it attacked her the previous day.

Police reported finding the animal mid-morning on Dec. 26, hooked to a line on the Cornells' property, bleeding heavily from what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the neck. A trooper euthanized the dog that afternoon.

Scott Cornell told state police that they adopted the dog from Second Chance in November and that it had become aggressive in the month that followed. The dog, described as a "large breed," apparently bit his hands on Christmas Day; photos of Scott Cornell's hands were among the documents filed in Bennington Superior Court.

Joyce Cornell pleaded not guilty and has been released from jail on conditions that include not owning an animal or living in a place that has animals. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison for each of the charges.

Comar declined to answer any questions about the criminal case, citing the ongoing investigation and prosecution, but spoke generally about the center's policies. "We try to make sure that it's a good fit for our animals and it's a good fit for the people who are adopting from us," she said.

Applications get denied for various reasons, including a household having pets with outdated rabies vaccinations or ones that aren't spayed or neutered. An applicant could also believe in declawing cats that scratch their furniture, contrary to the animal center's philosophy.

People who want another dog, for instance, first need to introduce their existing dog to the one they want to adopt to see if the animals get along. Every person in the household likewise needs to meet the potential pet.

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Second Chance representatives could also conduct a home inspection to make sure a dog that likes to run will have the proper place to do so.

"Some people complain that we are too strict with how we adopt out," Comar said.

Scott Cornell said he tried to return the dog to Second Chance but was told it would be euthanized if brought back, according to a police affidavit submitted in court.

Comar did not address Scott Cornell's claim, but confirmed that Second Chance's policy allows the euthanization of returned animals that have a documented history of being aggressive or biting, because the animals are unlikely to be placed in a home.

"We cannot release an animal into the community that we know had a long bite history," she said.

Barring these behavioral issues, Comar said Second Chance can take back animals that were adopted from the center and find a new home for them. Last year, for instance, she said the center took back a dog that was adopted eight years ago when its owner passed away.

A nonprofit organization established in 1959, Second Chance can house up to 100 cats and kittens, as well as 15 dogs, at its Arlington facility at any one time. It also has "small critters," such as guinea pigs, ferrets, gerbils, rabbits and hamsters that are looking for homes.

When asked, Comar said the center doesn't conduct criminal background checks on applicants.

While Second Chance doesn't often encounter animals that are physically abused by their owners, Comar urged people who witness animal abuse to contact law enforcement or animal control officers.

The center, she said, constantly evaluates its programs and services to see how they can be improved.

Contact Tiffany Tan at, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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