By LIBBY CUDMORE
HARTWICK SEMINARY – Stacie Haynes, Susquehanna SPCA executive director, won’t be caught off guard by animal cruelty.
“What always scares me about these cases is that they went unnoticed for so long before they blew up,” she said. “These animals were suffering. We needed something to prevent that suffering and get them help sooner.”
To work to that goal, Haynes partnered with Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. and District Attorney John Muehl to begin assembly a task force dedicated to combating animal cruelty in the county.
“We’ve talked about it for a while,” said Devlin when the task force was announced Friday, Feb. 1. “We want to get additional officers and local law enforcement trained.”
“When I get a call that someone suspects animal cruelty, it’s a ‘now what?’ situation,” she said. “We have to coordinate with law enforcement and try to figure out what we can and cannot do.”
The task force would be more pro-active, she said. “We don’t want to waste time figuring out what to do when that time could be spent finding homes for these animals.”
Animal cruelty encompasses a wide swath of behaviors, she said, from failing to adequately feed and shelter animals to hoarding to abuse.
“Most of the time, people call us with cases and we contact law enforcement,” said Haynes. “We’d like to see one person at the state police, the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department to be animal cruelty experts.”
Devlin agreed training is a need.
“The biggest issue is that we don’t deal with it every day,” said Devlin. “We want to do more training so that our officers are up to speed on Ag and Markets law so we can be more efficient during our investigations.”
Another issue, Devlin said, is that there is no follow-up with large cases. “We don’t have a way of checking in on them to make sure they don’t have more animals. We want to be able to track it.”
Education and outreach will also be part of the task force’s mission. “People need to understand that when there’s a polar vortex, you can’t leave your dog outside,” she said. “And if it’s not possible to do that, we want people to know where they can go for help.”
The first meeting was held Thursday, Jan. 31. “I was so impressed,” said Hayes. “Both came to the table with so many ideas and concerns.”
Haynes said that Muehl signed up for animal cruelty training. “It’s not just for show,” she said. “They believe in it, and they are just as much at the table as we are.”
They also added Dr. Joan Puritz, the Oneonta veterinarian, as well as Dr. William Johnson and Dr. Christine Schneider, both of Leatherstocking Veterinary Group.
“When we had the cat-hoarding case in West Oneonta, Dr. Puritz was there with us and she got her hands dirty,” said Haynes. “Dr. Bill and Dr. Christine specialize in large animal care, so their network saved the day when we had the farm situation in Gilbertsville.”
The group will meet again April 25 to confirm the mission and goals. “It feels good,” said Haynes. “There’s a real need, and we need to do something.”