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Cruelty towards animals is a crime that pertains to all “sentient creatures, not human beings.” As such, it is somewhat broader in scope than the limited focus of this handbook. A person found guilty of animal cruelty may be imprisoned, ordered to undergo psychiatric or psychological counseling, forfeit the right to own animals now and in the future, participate in animal cruelty prevention programs, pay a fine of not more than $5,000, and other penalties. 13 V.S.A. § 353.
Vermont’s criminal animal cruelty laws are enforced by “humane officers,” which includes law enforcement officers, locally appointed animal control officers, deputy game wardens, officers, employees, or agents of a humane society, any officer to serve criminal process, and any officer or agent of the local board of health. 13 V.S.A. § 351(4).
The local board of health (i.e., the selectboard and health officer) is a humane officer authorized to accept and care for animals alleged to have been mistreated, obtain a search warrant and seize animals, rescue an animal in imminent peril, arrange for euthanasia of a severely injured animal, and file motions in any ensuing criminal action. 13 V.S.A. § 354. Despite this statutory language, towns typically lack the resources, training, and experience to enforce the state’s animal cruelty law effectively. Therefore we recommend that if you receive an animal cruelty complaint, you should contact the local humane society or a law enforcement officer, such as the state police.
But for those towns that prefer to develop this capability in-house, there is the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force.
The Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force is “a statewide coalition of private and governmental agencies and associations that have joined to coordinate Vermont’s efforts to prevent and respond to animal cruelty through communication, education, training, legislation and enforcement.”30 The organization has compiled a comprehensive manual to help familiarize humane and law enforcement officers with Vermont’s animal cruelty laws, recognize signs of abuse and neglect, process and investigate animal complaints, and enforce the law. You can download the manual at www.vactf.org/manual/download.php. The manual includes VLCT’s Model Civil Animal Cruelty Ordinance, which allows towns to hold animal owners to even higher standards for the humane treatment of animals than that set by the state’s criminal laws.
Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force, What is the Vermont Animal Cruelty Task Force?, available at http://www.vactf.org/ (last visited June 9, 2013).
This chapter is a collection of frequently asked dog-related questions the Municipal Assistance Center has received over the years not addressed by other chapters of this handbook answered by our resident dog expert himself.
Question (Q): What is the definition of a “service animal”?
Spot (S): The definition of a service animal includes "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability." If they meet this definition, they are considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by the town and are protected by the ADA.
Q: Do service dogs need to be licensed?
S: Service dogs must be licensed and inoculated in the same manner as all other dogs/wolfhybrids in the state. State law does not distinguish between service dogs and other dogs or wolfhybrids for these purposes.
Q: Are owners of service dogs exempt from paying licensing fees?
S: There is nothing in state statute exempting service dogs from licensing fees. It is our opinion that a town may waive its portion of the licensing fee, so long as the state’s fees are collected.
Unless the town's charter provides otherwise, if a clerk is compensated by the fee, it is the clerk's decision to make. If the clerk is compensated by a salary, the selectboard should make the decision. In either case, if licensing fees are to be waived, it would be a good practice to set this out in a written policy.
Q: If I choose to exempt service dogs from local licensing fees, can I request information to determine whether a dog is a service dog?
S: Only for purposes of voluntarily agreeing to waive local licensing fees and penalties that would otherwise accrue to the town clerk as compensation and not for purposes of denying access for programs, activities and services to qualified individuals with disabilities protected under the ADA.
Q: A patron of our town library brings her dog in with her? Do we have a right to ask for proof that her dog is a service dog?
S: No. Title II of the ADA covers programs, activities, and services of public entities and protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in the services, programs, or activities of all State and local governments. Federal law on this matter explicitly precludes such inquiries. "A public entity shall not require documentation, such
That does not mean however that the town may not take all other measures available under state law to enforce against the owner of a service dog for failing to license and inoculate it.
Q: When can a town ask someone to remove a service dog from a municipal building?
S: A public entity may ask an individual to remove a service dog from its premises only under
In the event a service dog is excluded for any of the above reasons, the town must still provide the individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in its services, programs, and activities without having the dog on the premises.
Q: What are the rules governing the use of service dogs in town buildings?
S: All service dogs must be under the control of their handlers. According to federal regulations, "A service animal shall have a harness, leash, or other tether, unless either the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal's safe, effective performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler's control (e.g., voice control, signals, or other effective means)." 28 C.F.R. § 35.136(d).
Q: What is the definition of an “abandoned” dog?
S: Title 20, Section 3511 defines an abandoned animal31 as one that is placed in the custody of a veterinarian, veterinary hospital, boarding kennel, stable or other person or establishment for
treatment board or care and:
(1) Having been placed in custody for a specific period of time, the animal is not removed at the end of the specific period and a notice to remove the animal within ten days thereafter has been given to the person placing the animal in custody by means of registered mail addressed to the last known address of the person or, (2) Having been placed in custody for an unspecified period of time, the animal is not removed within ten days after notice to remove the animal has been given to the person placing the This law has broader application than just to dogs as it also concerns all domestic pets and domestic animals.
Q: When does this law apply?
S: The purpose of this law isn’t to address strays, but rather those instances when an owner of a dog drops it off at the vet, kennel or some other establishment for board or care and doesn’t return to pick it up. When that happens, the law imposes upon those establishments an obligation to notice the person to come get their dog and if they don’t it can be given to a humane society, the town pound, humanely destroyed or even sold. If this happens the owner is still responsible for the costs of the treatment, board or care the establishment provided.
Q: What are a town’s obligations when a vet, kennel etc. opts under this law to give an “abandoned” dog to the town pound?
S: None. Ostensibly, the town can dispose of the dog as it sees fit although the law is silent on this point. At this point notice would have already been provided by the establishment to the owner and the requisite ten days would have passed so the dog is now abandoned. The town should be able to dispose of it as it sees fit subject to whatever limitations, if any, that may be imposed by its animal/dog control ordinance. There is one potentially complicating factor for a town seeking to dispose of such a dog by humanely destroying it and that is the legislature’s stated predilection for towns attempting to find adoptive homes for these animals. Compare the disposal of abandoned animals statute [20 V.S.A. § 3513] with those governing dogs towns impound as a result of conducting the dog census [20 V.S.A. §§ 3591, 3621, 3622]. Under both laws, towns may come into control of dogs by operation of law. Under both laws, towns may dispose of the dogs as they see fit. One noticeable difference is that the law governing disposal of dogs impounded following the dog census imposes a mandatory ten day (towns may increase this timeframe) waiting period for those towns opting for humane destruction. The purpose of this ten day period is for towns to at least attempt to find these dogs adoptive homes or transfer them to a humane society or rescue organization. The abandoned dog statute has no similar requirement, however it’s important to note that this law hasn’t been amended since its adoption in 1968 whereas the waiting period in 20 V.S.A. § 3621 was added in 2009. The same rationale exists for extending this reprieve to abandoned dogs. Not only will this additional ten-day waiting period most closely align towns’ actions with legislative intent, but it will also provide administrative consistency for handling dogs that found themselves, through no fault of their own, all under the control and at the mercy of the town.
Q: What is the difference between an “abandoned” and a stray dog?
S: An “abandoned” dog is one that meets the definition of 20 V.S.A. § 3511 above. In contrast there is no state definition of a stray. A stray dog is one that may have been abandoned in the dictionary sense (forsaken) by its owner and is now homeless or it can be a dog running-at-large that lacks any identification as to who its owner is.
Q: What are the State laws governing stray dogs?
S: The laws governing stray dogs can be found in 20 V.S.A. §§ 3806, 3807. While not specifically geared to address the problem of strays in the state, these laws are self-executing VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 41 provisions enabling towns to impound dogs running-at-large (because strays have no home they are all running-at-large), instruct on how to provide notice of their impoundment when the owner is not known and how ultimately to dispose of such dogs when unclaimed. According to these sections, if a stray has been impounded, notification must be posted in the clerk’s office and other usual places for public notice for one week (check your ordinance as it may require a longer period of notice), unless it is a rabies suspect in which case it must be managed in accordance with the rules of the Vermont Department of Health. The statute is silent as to the content of the notice. We recommend including in the notice any information that may help alert the owner, such as describing the breed, sex, apparent age, temperament, observed tendencies, any significant identifying marks, and when, where, and under what circumstances it was impounded. 20 V.S.A. § 3806(b). If nobody claims the dog the second provision, 20 V.S.A. § 3807, states that town “may immediately order the domestic pet or wolf-hybrid to be killed.” Given the legislature’s stated preference for adoption mentioned above we recommend utilizing the ten-day waiting period to attempt to find these dogs adoptive homes or transfer them to a humane society or rescue organization.
Q: A police officer found a dog that had been hit by a car and brought it to the local veterinarian. The veterinarian said the dog was suffering and should be put down, but will not do so without the officer’s authorization. What should the officer do? Who is responsible for the veterinarian’s expenses?