Vigilantism not the proper way to end animal neglect

Published 9:45 am Monday, January 25, 2016

Freezing weather can put a strain on families with outdoor pets that may not be housebroken, but state law mandates that animals have necessary shelter, care, food and water no matter the weather conditions.
When neglect or abuse cases are reported, only certain individuals are legally authorized to inspect the scene and/or remove the animal from the scene.
“People should report anything they feel is suspicious,” said Tabetha Lusk, a licensed veterinary technician with Roan Mountain Animal Hospital. “If it’s too cold for a person, then it is too cold for an animal.”
However, she said large dogs can fair pretty well outside with proper shelter.
“They need dog houses that do not allow air to flow through and that are well-padded,” Lusk said. With smaller dogs, as it gets colder, they need to be brought inside or to somewhere protected from the wind and cold.”
Additionally, she said if kept outside pets must have fresh water — not a bowl of frozen water — as well as adequate food.
While some feel a commitment to saving animals from these situations themselves, Carter County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. David Caldwell recently advised a woman that only the proper authorities may remove an animal from a location at which neglect or abuse is suspected.
On Thursday, Caldwell responded to a call at an address off Okolona Road regarding a report of a stolen dog. The woman who took the dog left a note for the resident containing her contact information. According to the Sheriff’s report, Caldwell contacted Lela Hughis, who said she is a volunteer with the Humane Society and also works in association with the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter.
According to the report, Hughis said there had been several calls about the animal in the last week and that the dog did not have food or water, so she took the dog to her home to be cared for and was attempting to take it to the Sheriff’s Office to make a report.
Caldwell reported seeing food and water inside the doghouse while he was at the home.
Caldwell told Hughis she could not come onto someone’s property to take an animal without taking the proper steps through the Carter County Animal Shelter or Animal Control because she is a volunteer and not an employee.
The dog was returned to the owner.
ECCAS Director Stacey Heiden said shelter employees regularly conduct wellness checks at homes where neglect is reported. She said sometimes in cases of neglect, owners may not have money to feed the pet, and when that is the case, they try to register them with services provided by East Tennessee Spay and Neuter like the low cost food pantry. Sometimes, simply connecting pet owners with available services can remedy the situation until the owner is financially stable.
When a case of abuse is confirmed, animal control officers remove the animal from the scene, and necessary legal action ensues.
To report abuse or neglect, call the shelter at 423-547-6359 for domestic pets, or the Carter County University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Office at 423-542-1818 for farm animals.

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