Investigating Animal Cruelty
The Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force has developed a manual entitled 'How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in Vermont', including real case examples, fact sheets and forms, and explanation of VT's cruelty statutes.
Click here for more info
Have you witnessed animal cruelty or neglect?
Thanks to our Cruelty Response System project, you may now file non-emergency complaints of animal cruelty occurring anywhere in Vermont online or with a phone call.
Please note: if the animal is in immediate danger, please contact your local law enforcement agency or the Vermont State Police.
To Report Animal Cruelty Online:
Visit ReportAnimalCruelty.com to file a complaint of animal cruelty or neglect.
To Report Animal Cruelty by Phone:
The following agencies will be able to get your complaint into the right hands for investigation:
(Addison) Addison County Humane Society (802) 388-1100
(Bennington) 2nd Chance Animal Center (802) 375-2898
(Caledonia) St. Johnsbury Police Department (802) 748-2315
(Chittenden) Humane Society of Chittenden County (802) 862-0135
*Burlington Only* Burlington Police Department (802)658-2700
(Essex) P.E.T.S. of the Kingdom (802) 754-6530
(Franklin)Franklin County Humane Society(802) 524-9650
(Grand Isle)Humane Society of Chittenden County (802) 862-0135
(Lamoille) North Country Animal League (802) 888-5065
(Orange)Central Vermont Humane Society (802) 476-3811
(Orleans)P.E.T.S.of the Kingdom (802) 754-6530
(Rutland)Rutland County Humane Society (802) 483-6700
(Washington)Central Vermont Humane Society(802) 476-3811
(Windham) Windham County Humane Society (802) 254-2232
(Windsor) Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society (802) 484-5829
Check out VPR's segment on the Vermont Cruelty Response System!
Listen to this great interview with Jill Tucker detailing our statewide Cruelty Response System.
Check out our new animal cruelty television PSA!
Are you an investigator? Click here to order a new manual.
The Vermont Animal Cruelty Response Coalition Presents
Level IV: Farm Animal Cruelty Investigations
When: Saturday October 13th, 2012
Where: Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT - in the “Farm Barn”
Cost: $20.00 (includes lunch and all materials)
This introductory and hands-on workshop will focus on some of the most common farm animals you might see during the course of an animal cruelty investigation. There will be a classroom session in the morning. Topics to be covered will be proper handling, housing, management practices, body condition scoring (BCS) and locomotion of farm animals. There will also be a piece on Vermont laws as they relate to farm animals and what the proper procedures are for following up on a complaint.
The afternoon session will give participants an opportunity to apply the skills and techniques learned in the classroom session. We will get up close and personal with cows, chickens, swine, and sheep.
Click here for more information
The Vermont Humane Federation (VHF), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and other animal advocates throughout the state of Vermont worked vigorously to pass a felony animal cruelty statute and enact laws that, when enforced, really do afford animals protection from harm and neglect. 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 & HSUS 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. Over a 14 month period, beginning August 2007 and ending September 2008, a Cruelty Response System was established 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’s 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.
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.
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.” While this agency receives many complaints about livestock directly, they are supportive of Cruelty Response Systems because they help filter complaints that do not need the Agency’s immediate attention.
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 email@example.com or call 802-368-2790.
What’s the purpose of a Cruelty Response System?
• To educate the public about animal cruelty and encourage reporting.
• To ensure that every complaint is investigated.
• To improve communication, collaboration and resource-sharing between public and private agencies for animal-related emergencies.
• To better document cases in order to support targeted public outreach and prevention programs.
What problems does the CRS intend to address?
• Members of the public are not always sure who to call to report concerns. As a result, some incidents go unreported, while others are reported to multiple agencies at the same time.
• Police, municipal officials and private agencies are not always communicating with each other, and as a result, there could be multiple responders to the same complaints, or no responders because it is presumed to be another agency’s responsibility.
• Callers are sometimes bounced from agency to agency when jurisdictional boundaries are unclear.
• State’s Attorneys have varying degrees of success in prosecuting cases if the lead investigator lacks experience and training in criminal procedure. A collaborative approach enables law enforcement experts and animal welfare experts to work together to build solid cases.
• Municipal authorities or law enforcement officers who have not established relationships with private animal welfare organizations may simply lack the resources necessary to help animal owners who are struggling to comply. Or they may be uncomfortable with the prospect of seizing animals in serious situations for lack of a place to house them until the case is adjudicated
I am an ACO and have been handling cruelty investigations for my town. Will I still be managing my own cases?
Absolutely! You will continue to serve as a first responder on cases in your town and handle those cases as you always have. The CRS is simply in place to support you in the event you need it. The primary difference is that after your investigation, someone from your county’s lead agency will contact you for the case outcome in order to enter it into the system, and to see if you need any assistance or support.
Why do we need a “lead agency?”
The lead agency in each county has volunteered to serve as such so that no complaint of cruelty and neglect falls through the cracks. A big challenge facing our rural state is that the resources available to respond to these complaints at the local level (including manpower) vary widely from town to town. The lead agency’s role is simply to help fill in the gaps where local resources may be lacking.
Do ALL of the calls have to go to the lead agency?
Not necessarily. If your community members already know to call you when they are concerned about an animal, they will continue to do so. We suspect that for every person who knows to call you, however, there are many others who don’t. No matter where the call comes in—to you directly or to the lead agency—it will be your case to handle.
Having one contact number for each county will minimize confusion and create consistency. Even though turnover exists with enforcement authorities at both private and public agencies, the number and location for your local shelter is more likely to remain the same over time.
If you feel that you or your agency is 100% accessible and that calls going through the lead agency will slow down your response, please contact them to come up with a solution. The purpose of this program is to help animals and address cruelty as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the process should not result in bottlenecks of communication. The people leading the CRS efforts in each county are committed to working with all of their local stakeholders in order to come up with the very best solution for the animals in your community.
What happens if someone calls in with an emergency to a humane agency and it’s after hours?
All counties that are served by private humane agencies will have an outgoing voicemail message that states “If an animal is in immediate danger, please call your local police department, or the Vermont State Police at (802) xxx-xxxx”
Tell me about Animal Tracks, the new case management and reporting system. How secure is that information?
The case management and reporting system is designed to help agencies manage their cases in a professional, secure environment. It will enable lead agencies to monitor cases, ensure they are resolved, document outcomes, and gather valuable information about the types of challenges their community faces with respect to animal welfare. Additionally, it will help streamline efforts on those cases where multiple agencies are involved. For example, if a witness calls a complaint in to every party they can think of (the local humane society, the state police, their town constable or ACO, and the Agency of Agriculture) the police and the Agency of Agriculture would be able to log in to see if the complaint had already been handled.
The system is web-based, username and password protected, encrypted, and has a variety of access-level protections. Humane agencies taking calls and entering follow up information will likely be the most active users of the system. Law enforcement agencies, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (Animal Health Section), and state’s attorneys will also have access, enabling them to document activities as well as upload and share reports. Each user of the system will be required to accept a confidentiality agreement at their first log in. Users will be trained on appropriate use of the system and will be offered guidance on how to collect and document appropriate, relevant case information.
Should we be concerned that this case information is in “civilian hands” as opposed to a law enforcement agency?
It’s important to keep in mind that more than 95% of these cases are resolved through owner education and do not rise to the level of criminal prosecution. And most of the individuals resolving these cases with the public are not law enforcement officers.
To verify that the development of this system is appropriate for its intended use, we consulted the director of the Vermont Criminal Information Center. In addition to expressing enthusiasm for this project, he deemed it totally appropriate for humane agencies with statutory authority to investigate, accept and track information about investigations. He also pointed out that there are no specific legal confidentiality issues because humane agencies are not law enforcement agencies.
Just like a private business that maintains records that include personal information, the users of this system are obligated to guard against the misuse of data. Data elements that are most vulnerable for theft (social security numbers and dates of birth) will not be collected. Contents of this system may be subject to subpoena in the event a case goes to trial, and the developers of this system have taken all the right precautionary measures to ensure security and reliability.
What are the other benefits of Animal Tracks?
Previously, there were no means of collecting accurate statewide statistics about animal cruelty complaints. While law enforcement databases may have information about criminal activities, most humane enforcement activities do not rise to the level of criminal prosecution. Statewide statistics will help everyone understand the type and frequency of violations, as well as how many resources are being devoted to address animal cruelty.
With the ability to accurately identify trends, we will be able to tailor our public education efforts toward prevention. For example, if we see that a high percentage of complaints pertain to inadequate care of horses, we might tailor our publicity efforts toward that area.
Another benefit of Animal Tracks is that it supports the transfer of records in the event a suspect moves to another county. Maintaining historical records that document numerous attempts to get an individual to comply are incredibly helpful when making a case to encourage your state’s attorney to prosecute. Should a suspect move from county to county, that information is not lost.
How can the CRS help with animal emergencies?
Of all the reasons why it’s important for public and private agencies to pull together, the ability to respond effectively to animal emergencies tops the list. For example, no single individual or agency should be left to handle a hoarding situation on their own. Removing animals from dangerous situations involves extensive coordination of resources for rescue, transportation, veterinary care, temporary housing, and ultimately, the adoption of animals.
How can the CRS help with prosecution?
We have personally met with nearly all of Vermont’s state’s attorneys during the course of implementing this project. All have been enthusiastic about the CRS model as it fosters better communication and will ultimately help them assemble better, more winnable cases. A number of these prosecutors had cases they could point to where a lack of communication and collaboration resulted in their inability to prosecute.
Many humane agents have also expressed frustration over past cases, or the inability to get their SA to take their cases seriously. Working within a CRS model, we can work together to assemble stronger cases.
What training and resources are available?
The Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force offers affordable humane investigation training and a comprehensive manual on how to investigate animal cruelty in Vermont. The trainings are held annually at the Vermont Police Academy, and this year, 3 trainings have been added in various parts of the state to encourage greater participation. The cruelty manual is provided as part of the training, and may be purchased separately from the HSUS New England Regional Office for $30. It can also be downloaded free of charge at www.vactf.org/manual. Should more trainings be necessary, CRS leaders will work with the VACTF to schedule them.
If you need further resources, please ask. We wish to provide you with whatever assistance you may need in the fight against animal cruelty.