Witness to abuse: Animal cruelty often borne of ignorance
This is a really well written article on what animal control officers face on a day to day basis. The officer in this article is based in Kansas, but much of the information in this article can be applied to other states as well. The discussion of “what is animal cruelty” is important for all advocates of horses and other animals to understand. It is easy for us to point and say “That person is abusing that horse”…it is much more difficult to prove it in a court of law. ~ HfH
From: The Topeka Capital Jouranl
By: Aly Van Dyke
31-year animal control officer does tough job because ‘someone has to go in there’
Several puppies and cats found dead after being abandoned by their owners.
Two dogs and six puppies seized from a Shawnee County woman. The adult dogs were malnourished and infested with hookworms. The woman claimed she didn’t have the money to take them to a veterinarian.
Three horses, their rib cages visible, left without water and fenced in a cramped field with no grass to eat or shelter from the 100-degree weather. This, even after several return visits from law enforcement.
Vicki Hamilton has seen some of the worst our community has to offer in her 31 years with Shawnee County Animal Control. It is a job few people can stomach, the animal control supervisor acknowledges, but it has to be done, and it has to be done correctly.
“It is very emotional,” Hamilton said. “But that’s why I stay. Someone has to go in there and fix it.”
Fortunately, she said, there are few truly heinous cases of animal cruelty. About 90 percent of her job, she said, is education.
When she does have to deal with intentional abuse — maybe once or twice a year — Hamilton and the other animal control officers file copious amounts of documentation, from written reports of each visit to photographs and video of the abuses.
“For those 10 percent that are intentional, I don’t want them getting away with it,” she said. “We want to make sure we make someone accountable for what they’ve done.”
In her three decades with the department, she said, she lost exactly one animal cruelty case — a mistake, she said, she hasn’t made twice.
Calls about neglected or abused animals come across the scanner daily, and Shawnee County animal control responds to each one in its jurisdiction — starting a paper trail that, if the case proceeds to trial, could span two to three years by the time appeals are wrapped up.
Shawnee County sheriff’s Lt. Akim Reynolds, who is in charge of the animal control division, encouraged people to report perceived instances of animal cruelty or neglect by calling (785) 368-9200. However, he said, people need to keep in mind they might not have the full picture. For example, he said, the person might work at night and care for the animal without people noticing.
The first step officers take after receiving a neglect or abuse call, Hamilton said, is to attempt to make contact with the owner. If no one is home, officers leave a pink slip indicating why they were there and urging the owner to contact them.
If officers see the animal doesn’t have food or water, they will leave some on the first visit. All three animal control officers carry an assortment of food and grain for the animals found in Shawnee County and use them as an easy way to notice if things change as they return to the property, Hamilton said.
Officers will return up to three consecutive days in an attempt to make contact with the owner before they take further action to ensure the animal’s safety, she said.
“We try to work with people as best we can,” Hamilton said. “If they’re obviously not trying, we’ll step in.”
Most animal abuse in Shawnee County, she said, boils down to ignorance.
Pet owners don’t know, for example, that concrete absorbs heat and can get up to 110 degrees — burning the pads of animals’ feet. They don’t know the water dish has tipped over, and simply tying it down can alleviate the problem.
“The biggest thing we do is educate people how to fix problems or take better care of their animals,” she said.
Sometimes, it is as basic as lacking the financial resources to care for the animal, in which case the officer attempts to connect them with shelters or rescue facilities to ensure the animal is properly cared for.
Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.