Brandon Working on Expanded Animal Ordinance

Brandon Working on Expanded Animal Ordinance

RUTLAND HERALD 06/30/20
By Keith Whitcomb, Jr. 

BRANDON — Several months after more than 100 animals were removed from a property on Kimball Road, the town is working on updating and improving its animal control ordinances.

Last week, the Select Board started talking about the new draft ordinance that would expand the reach of the animal control officer. The first official public hearing for the ordinance, which is required for it to be adopted, will be at 6 p.m. July 13, Selectman Tim Guiles said Tuesday.

“If we’re not working on prevention, it’s going to be an ongoing issue,” said Alexandra Breyer, a member of the Planning Commission who clarified that she was speaking as a resident and not as a commissioner. Likewise, the chairman of the Planning Commission, Michael Shank, voiced his support for an updated ordinance, though he was not speaking in his official capacity.

“I just want to voice my support as well for an improvement in the way the town responds to animal cruelty and animal abuse, having received some of the animals that came from the Kimball Road farm,” said Shank. “I’ve seen the devastation that was caused to these animals, and it’s heartbreaking.

“If another incident like this happens here at that farm or a different farm, and we fail to do everything we can to protect animals from cruelty and abuse, we have failed the entire town.”

On Jan. 31, police and other authorities removed about 220 animals, from cats and dogs to pigs and goats, from the Kimball Road property. William H. Hegarty, then 54, of Brandon, pleaded not guilty the following week in Rutland criminal court to two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. The charges stemmed from the physical condition of a horse and a dead cat.

Select Board Chairman Seth Hopkins said that he, Guiles, Animal Control Officer Margaret Kahrs, Brandon Police Chief Christopher Brickell, and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns worked on drafting the new ordinance.

Hopkins said the ordinance is designed as a nuisance control ordinance, as animal cruelty and welfare issues are enforced by police and the courts while the Agency of Agriculture holds sway over anything related to a farm, thus limiting what the town can ultimately do. The language in this ordinance does expand the animal control officers authority beyond the typical dogs, cats and ferrets to creatures such as backyard hens getting out and causing problems.

Much of the discussion centered around what sort of criminal statutes the town could mirror with an ordinance and enforce through ticketing. Hopkins said the board will reach out to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) for further guidance ahead of the public hearing, as there was some disagreement over what the animal control officer would be able to enforce.

Shank said he was concerned the financial penalties for first and second offenses weren’t steep enough to deter the sort of behavior the ordinance is intended for. According to Guiles, the penalties are those recommended by VLCT for a nuisance animal ordinance.

House Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, said that a few years ago the end of the Legislative session ended up being delayed because of a debate regarding the adequate feeding and care of animals with regard to a bill, meaning the issue is more complex than it appears on the surface.