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February 18, 2014

Animal abuse draws Otsego's attention

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — A wave of incidents involving neglected and mistreated pets and livestock is prompting Otsego County officials to consider creating the new post of animal cruelty investigator.

County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, the influential chairman of the county Public Safety Committee, said Monday he sees considerable merit in the idea, given new reports from Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. and Liz Mackey,the executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA in Cooperstown..

“We need to be able to prevent these kinds of things from happening” and to be able to respond more quickly and effectively when abuse reports are made, Powers said.

In many cases - such as those involving animal hoarders - the people responsible for the neglect are not deliberately trying to endanger animals but could have health and financial misfortune issues that hinder their ability to maintain and nourish them, he said.

“It happens to good people,” he said.

But there have also been puppy mill cases - such as the widely publicized arrest in 2012 of Worcester dog breeder Anthony Popolizio

The discussions of bringing an animal cruelty investigator to county government are only beginning to take shape, and officials plan to check with other counties that have such an operation to weigh various models for setting up the office.

Questions such as how and where animals would be cared for in the event they have to be seized by authorities need to be examined closely, Devlin said. 

“We’re in the very early stages with this,” the sheriff said.

Another important question will be to determine how much the county could potentially afford for the office, should the Board of Representatives approve that it is needed. Devlin said officials will be meeting with County Treasurer Dan Crowell to discuss possible funding for the office and how to make it affordable.

Powers said the public is already paying for animal cruelty investigations and prosecutions because they require time and resources from the Sheriff’s Department, other police agencies and the office of District Attrorney John Muehl.

The seizing of dogs and cats has also led to considerable expenses for the SPCA shelter, where the animals often get boarded, nursed back to health and fed after they are taken away from the owners, officials said.

While county finances have been strained in recent months, the pressure on the county treasury is expected to ease once the sale of debt-ridden Otsego Manor nursing home is completed.

The county is also expected to get an infusion of funds when the assets of the regional trash authority known as MOSA are liquidated. Otsego County has determined it wants to set up a private-public partnership to manage its own waste management system.

Schhoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond said his county looked into creating an animal cruelty office several years ago but it never got off the ground.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Desmond said when told the proposal is drawing early support in Otsego County. “It’s important to have someone with expertise in animal cruelty. I wish them good luck in working on that.”

The Susquehanna SPCA ended up with dozens of sick and malnourished dogs in January 2012 after they were seized from South Side Dogs, a Worcester kennel owned by Frank Popolizio of Schenectady

Last October, Popolizio, 67, pleaded guilty to felony charges of ripping off his customers and vendors, and was ordered not to be involved with selling animals for five years.