The new Otsego County Animal Cruelty Task Force will convene for the first time Thursday, May 9, near Cooperstown.
"I am really looking forward to (Thursday), and I am encouraged with everyone's reaction to the task force," said Stacie Haynes, executive director of the Susquehanna Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I think it is going to be a successful initiative that allows us to fight animal cruelty."
Haynes is a board member of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, which bills itself as the advocacy voice of New York's animal shelters. She said she began developing the idea of a local task force after hearing a report about a similar one in Albany County during a NYSAPF meeting, but she had been thinking about the idea even before she knew of the Albany plan, because of some of the local cruelty cases in Otsego County since she joined the local shelter in 2015.
Animal cruelty is not a penal crime, but is covered under New York's Agriculture and Markets Law, Haynes said, so law enforcement agencies are not always trained in how to deal with cases. Instead, calls about animal cruelty often go to the SPCA.
"The problem is, the SPCA has no legal authority, so it really needs to be a partnership," she said. "The reason we need the task force is nothing is in place when someone suspects animal cruelty. People just kind of scratch their heads.
"We have such a good relationship with the sheriff's office and the district attorney's office, so it was a no-brainer for us to work together," she continued.
The task force will include at least eight members: Haynes and her assistant, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr., Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl, a representative from the New York State Police and three local veterinarians.
The first meeting, which will be held at the Sheriff's Office in the hamlet of Phoenix Mills in the town of Middlefield, will be to set up preliminary goals and start the process to make it easier for animal cruelty to be reported and investigated. Early goals are to set up a website and hotline, and to formulate guidelines and procedures for reporting and investigating animal cruelty.
Haynes said the SPCA will absorb the initial costs of the venture, but if the project grows, she will ask the Otsego County Board of Representatives for money. She said a dedicated law enforcement position or training for sheriff's deputies, on how to spot animal cruelty and apply the ag and market laws, are potential long-term goals which would require a funding source.
However, for starters, Haynes said she is excited to bring together a group of people interested in preventing animal cruelty.
"Thursday, we will just sort of lay out our ideas, what our mission is and what are our goals," she said. "Then if we can all come to an agreement on those, we will come up with a plan to move forward."