Cruelty Response System Project

The Vermont Humane Federation (VHF) works vigorously to continue to strengthen our state animal cruelty laws. While society agrees that animals deserve protection, there were many areas throughout Vermont where animals are suffering from inadequate enforcement of the laws in place to protect them.

As such, the VHF embarked upon a very important statewide initiative with the goal of ensuring that every complaint of animal cruelty and neglect has a place to go, a person to investigate it, and a process to verify that appropriate action is taken and that results are documented. A Cruelty Response System was established in 2007 to serve each and every county in the state of Vermont.

What is a Cruelty Response System?
A Cruelty Response System (CRS) is a collaboration between animal shelters, police, state‚ attorneys, animal control officers, constables, humane investigators, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force, local veterinarians, and animal rescue organizations. The CRS protects the animals and benefits all parties by distributing humane enforcement responsibilities across several resources so that no single agency or individual is overburdened allowing each to draw upon their own area of expertise. The CRS also emphasizes accountability and follow up ensuring all complaints are appropriately resolved through the use of a secure, web-based, case management and reporting system called Animal Tracks.

How does a CRS work?
Within each county in Vermont, the public is directed to call one phone number with complaints of animal cruelty or neglect. The lead agency, usually a humane society or other animal welfare organization, serves as the central clearinghouse for complaints and facilitates the investigations and follow up.

When a complaint is called in, a staff member collects information about the animal(s) involved, what was observed, and details about the location. The humane investigator for the town in which the situation has occurred is contacted. The humane investigator then visits the animal owner who is the subject of the complaint. In most cases, the humane investigator first tries to rectify the situation by educating the pet owner about how to provide better care for the animal(s). If the situation does not improve, the police will become involved and a search warrant may be obtained. In some criminal cases, animals may be seized as part of the investigation.

Click here to see an illustration of the investigative model.

Benefits to each party

First and foremost, the animals benefit by ensuring they are afforded the protection of the law. Some animals are voluntarily surrendered to humane societies, rescue groups, or humane agents during the investigation process enabling them to find new and better homes. Some animals are seized when the situation is serious and a search warrant has been obtained. Many animals are helped because their owners are educated on how to better care for them. It is estimated that more than 3,000 animals statewide will benefit from the successful implementation of cruelty response systems.

State Police
A collaborative approach to enforcement saves the state police time and money by having another agency or individual take a first look at animal-related complaints to filter the unsubstantiated complaints from the legitimate ones. When the police do not have to spend significant resources responding to non-urgent or unsubstantiated complaints, they are far more enthusiastic about providing assistance when their help is truly needed. Additionally, when the police do head out on animal-related calls they often appreciate the willingness of an experienced humane agent to accompany them to provide animal-related expertise.

Local Police & Animal Control Officers
The animal control officers (ACO), constables, local police, and other town humane investigators enjoy greater confidence in pursuing these cases when an effective CRS is in place. They know that they will be provided guidance and support and that the police and state’s attorney will take action if necessary. ACOs are also strongly encouraged to attend humane enforcement training and can be provided with a comprehensive humane investigations manual.

“Addison County’s cruelty response system has been very helpful to me over these past four years in my work as the town of Ferrsiburg’s animal control officer. ACHS has supported me in many ways including enlisting the support of law enforcement, working with the state’s attorney, providing traps, equipment, and hands on help in the removal of animals, contacting HSUS to post a reward for information, getting media attention when I needed it, and providing moral support and guidance on complex cases. ACHS has been great to work with and has recognized me publicly for the work I do. The resources and support provided through the Cruelty Response System are terrific.”

– Donna Baldwin, ACO Ferrisburg, VT

 “The Burlington Police Department enthusiastically supports the Vermont Humane Federation’s Cruelty Response System Project (CRSP) and their goal of building each county’s local capacity to respond to complaints of animal cruelty and neglect. Burlington is fortunate to have a well-trained, full-time animal control officer and consequently does not customarily require the assistance provided by the CRSP. The Burlington Police Department is aware, however, that many towns throughout the state struggle with limited resources. The CRSP’s efforts to improve communication and collaboration between humane agencies, animal control officers, constables, police, and state’s attorneys should help ensure that Vermont’s animals will receive the help and protection they need, that Vermont’s animal welfare laws are enforced and investigators in the field are well-supported.”

– Lieutenant Kathleen P. Stubbing, Burlington Police Department

Local Humane Society or shelter
Maintaining a leadership role in this coalition serves to extend the capacity of the organization to benefit animals far beyond the confines of the physical shelter. An effective CRS enables the shelter to ensure that all complaints are investigated and that the animals are receiving the protection they are due. Depending upon how the CRS is established, the organization may incur no additional costs to put an effective system in place. The final and significantly important benefit is that this type of system fortifies relationships throughout the area, opening lines of communication, and fostering a sense of teamwork, professionalism, and mutual respect.

The Public
Ideally, the public will have one number to call to report animal cruelty resulting in less confusion and greater confidence that the complaint will be investigated. Members of the public are also pleased to receive a call back following the investigation to discuss how it was resolved. This puts an end to the age old criticism of “I called in a complaint and no one did anything about it!” Following up with the original caller allows you to describe what was found, how the situation was handled, and why.

Agency of Agriculture
In the state of Vermont, investigators are required by law to notify the Agency of Agriculture prior to taking enforcement action in situations involving livestock. Representatives from the Agency of Agriculture are responsible for evaluating a situation to see if the care of the animals falls under the realm of “accepted agricultural practices.”

State’s Attorney
A CRS benefits the state’s attorney by helping to build better cases that lead to successful prosecutions. Additionally, animal cruelty cases hold a high degree of public interest, and provide an opportunity to highlight some of their great work. Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn said “The Addison County Anti-Cruelty Coalition has improved communication and made the prosecution of animal cruelty cases much more effective. This collaborative approach has improved the collection of evidence and put everyone on the same page with regard to what is needed to prosecute these cases. I strongly support the creation of Anti-Cruelty Coalitions!”

Social Service Agencies
The FBI has established that serial killers frequently have a history of killing and torturing animals in their youth. Because the abuse of animals is strongly associated with violence towards humans, a critical component of the CRS is the establishment of a cross-reporting relationship with local social service agencies. Social service agencies benefit by having resources to call upon to facilitate the rescue of animals in danger. Additionally, humane investigators will contact social service agencies when they suspect that human residents may be the victims of abuse or neglect.

If you have any questions or feedback about this statewide program or wish to learn more about CRS efforts in your area, please Call or email Joanne Bourbeau at or call 802-368-2790.