By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – PETS, Stacie Haynes said, are the county’s tools for combating animal cruelty.
“PETS stands for Prevention, Education, Training and Systems,” said Haynes, Susquehanna SPCA executive director. “That is the new name we have given the Animal Cruelty Task Force.”
The group, which formed in February, met this morning at the county Sheriff’s Department offices to agree on goals.
Most cases of animal cruelty, said Haynes, are people who find themselves overwhelmed. “They’re not intentionally torturing an animal, they just end up in unfortunate circumstances.”
“In hoarding cases, many times it’s a mental health issue,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “They think they’re rescuing all these animals. They emotionally care, but they can’t physically care for that many.”
As such, the task force believes, the education piece is crucial to the prevention side of things. “We want to train officers to recognize signs of animal abuse,” said Muehl.
That training will also extend to social services agencies, including Child and Adult Protective Services and the Office of the Aging.
“We want them to recognize what animal cruelty looks like,” said Haynes. “Too often, different departments ask us for help too late or in the middle of a crisis, so our response isn’t as organized. We want them to call us before there’s a crisis, or tell someone who has, for instance, six dogs they can’t take care of that they can call us and we will be a resource, even if it’s just bringing a few bags of dog food.”
Another component of education is making people aware that the Susquehanna SPCA is available to help. “There’s an awareness portion,” said Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. “We want to let people who need help know they can get help.”
Devlin also said the group began working on putting a standardized system of reporting suspected animal cruelty in place.
“Right now, the sheriff just has my number in his phone,” said Haynes.
But, Haynes stressed, those reporting animal cruelty must leave their name when calling the shelter. “We can’t help if we don’t know who’s calling,” she said. “I can’t just go out to a random road to look at a horse because of an anonymous caller.”
“We will keep your name private,” said Muehl. “But without a name, we really can’t help.”
The Gilbertsville hoarding case, she said, as were the neglected pigs in Oneonta, were both reported by vigilant neighbors. “We know these things are going on, but we need to know where,” said Haynes.
The next goals, she said, are to meet with the Otsego County Magistrate’s Association and continue putting together training for law enforcement.
PETS will meet again over the summer and continue to network with other animal protection agencies to study their best practices. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Haynes.