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Montgomery County animal welfare commission created

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - Updated: 7:59 PM

By NICOLE ANTONUCCI

For the C-S-E

FONDA -- Montgomery County is taking on a collaborative effort with local animal shelters, advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies to address animal welfare, specifically the increasing number of puppy mills in the county.

County Executive Matthew Ossenfort issued his first executive order Tuesday to form the Animal Welfare Investigation and Cruelty Prevention Commission.

He said he decided to make it his first order of business after receiving multiple phone calls and e-mails from people in the county.

"You can tell a lot about people and a community by how they treat their animals. The headlines we are receiving about these puppy mills in Montgomery County is unfortunate," Ossenfort said. "I wanted to take a stand and say that we aren't going to tolerate this type of action and behavior in the county. I want to do something about it. It's not only important to me but to people in the county."

The commission has three main objectives -- investigating puppy mills, animal cruelty, and sheltering animals following a disaster.

"It's bringing many moving pieces together," Ossenfort said. "[We] have law enforcement, rescue groups, shelters, and advocates that want to be involved, so I thought the best thing was to bring everyone to the table to take a comprehensive look at the issue and make recommendations."

The formation of the commission, which will be headed by District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, comes in the wake of legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowing municipalities to draft their own laws with regard to breeding and pet-dealing.

Jan Zumbolo, interim shelter manager for the Montgomery County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she agrees with Ossenfort's order.

"I think it will help us move forward with [addressing] animal cruelty in the county," Zumbolo said, adding that cruelty involves all types of animals, from dogs and cats to chickens, horses and cows. "It starts from neglect to people not being able to afford taking care of them and for some reason people walk away from it all. They get in over their head."

Ossenfort said the commission will review the legislation and make recommendations to the county legislature on how best to proceed enacting future laws.

The commission will look at the new state legislation to see what can be done locally to prevent puppy mills in Montgomery County, and to hold accountable those who are operating such facilities, he said.

However, the county has to be careful to not go after the breeders who follow the law, Ossenfort said.

In terms of enforcing animal cruelty violations, Ossenfort recognizes there may not be much that can be done to craft local laws, but he said the commission will look into how to enforce those cases.

Zumbolo said many people don't realize how many cases the SPCA deals with because it doesn't become publicized unless people don't cooperate, and law enforcement gets involved.

Zumbolo said the commission will help educate different agencies on how to go about an animal cruelty investigation.

Finally, the commission will create a plan regarding the shelter of animals during a disaster so the county can put resources in place.

Ossenfort said during floods in Fort Plain last summer, people refused to evacuate their homes because they didn't have a place for their animals.

"There wasn't a plan in place to shelter animals," he said. "When everything happens in the spur of the moment, when one day everything is normal and the next day you are in an emergency phase, you have to have plans ready to go. My goal is to make the county one of the most prepared counties in the state."

While the SPCA does shelter animals, Zumbolo said the current facility does not have the needed space for sheltering animals.

"It is a problem on a large scale," she said, but added that a larger facility is being designed and will allow the shelter to take in more animals during a disaster.

     

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