Animal cruelty cases now start with police

Humane Society backs up local forces and State Police

CLAVERACK—Animal cruelty is a crime and may be even life-threatening.

That’s why the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA wants to be sure every report of animal abuse or cruelty is checked out as quickly as possible.

To make that happen, the humane society asks people reporting such a crime to call their local police.

In the past, the humane society accepted these types of state Agriculture and Markets Law complaints at the shelter, but since February, callers have been told to report the matter to local police, whether it’s town or village police, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office or State Police, humane society President, CEO and Investigator Ronald Perez, Jr. told The Columbia Paper this week.

The humane society has just three part-time investigators to cover almost 1,300 square miles, the combined Twin County area. With calls coming in from such a broad territory, traveling to and investigating complaints from northern Greene to southern Columbia takes time—time that maybe a sick or injured animal does not have.

Under the new system, police officers are always the first responders, thought they have often responded to such cases in the past. “They assess the situation and if they feel it warrants an investigator, they call us,” said Mr. Perez.

Five hundred to six hundred calls come in a year and though most of them are unfounded, “it’s a logical avenue to take, rather than running all over two counties” a local officer can check it out first, he said, adding, “It’s better for the shelter and it’s better for the animals.”

Most officers now receive animal cruelty training as part of their standard police academy education, he added.

Unfounded calls often come from a well-meaning concerned citizen who sees a horse in a paddock on a cold day and thinks it does not have adequate shelter or from a disgruntled neighbor or ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend looking to cause unwarranted trouble for someone they don’t like, noted Mr. Perez, who has been humane society president for 18 years.

Two recent cases first checked out by police, then turned over to humane society investigators, both involved abandonment. In one case a pet owner died suddenly leaving two young female pit bulls—Thelma and Louise, who have already been adopted out by the shelter.

In the other case, a pet owner moved away, leaving his female pit bull alone. The “sweet” dog appears to have given birth to a few litters and may have had little or no food for a couple of days, said Mr. Perez, noting she is now at the shelter and the investigation is ongoing.

Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said by phone this week that his office has always worked closely with the humane society.

“We are first responders on animal calls. If we have any questions we can still get an investigator from the humane society,” the sheriff said. “The humane society has [animal] knowledge and experts, we won’t ever match that, but we have access to them and can call them. We go out and help them and they call on us also,” he said.

State Police Zone One Commander Captain Michael Jankowiak stationed at the Livingston barracks, agreed that his agency continues to work closely with the SPCA.

Captain Jankowiak said in a phone interview, the protocol now is for people who see crimes of animal cruelty or neglect to call the police or deputies.

Officers respond, gather information and, if necessary, refer the case to the SPCA.

“It’s not a change from a State Police perspective, we continue to respond to everything reported to us,” the captain said.

Troopers attended state Agriculture and Markets Law training at Columbia-Greene Community College last summer and a section on Ag and Markets Law is included in a 40-hour block or a full work week’s worth investigations training at the State Police Academy, Capt. Jankowiak said.

This makes it possible for a graduating trooper to go to any of the 62 counties in New York where State Police serve and handle animal cruelty calls, he said.

This year, the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA celebrates 60 years of caring for animals in need. It started in 1955, when Ella Merle and Dede Kline built a structure with five dog kennels, which became the first Columbia-Greene Humane Society ancestor. The humane society was chartered as an SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in 1977. This granted CGHS/SPCA law enforcement authority to investigate and arrest individuals who intentionally harm animals.

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