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Animal abuse cases perplex local officials

Who decides, who pays for neglected animals?

A recent case of animal abuse in Essex is raising questions in Moriah.

A recent case of animal abuse in Essex is raising questions in Moriah. Photo by Katherine Clark.

— A recent case of animal abuse in Essex is raising questions in Moriah.

More than 40 malnourished horses were seized and their owner, Shelley Wing of Essex, arrested recently. She was charged with 41 counts of failing to provide sustenance for them.

Those horses are now under the care of a veterinarian at county expense.

“Essex County, as required by law, accepted the responsibility for providing temporary shelter for the horses which were determined by independent veterinarians to be seriously neglected and in need of immediate feed and care,” County Manager Dan Palmer said in the press release.

The county responsibility is news to Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, whose town has spent thousands of dollars to care for allegedly-abused animals while investigations took place.

“I’m confused,” Scozzafava said. “I can’t get clarification from the state. Who is responsible for these fees? In the past Moriah has paid for them. Why is the county paying now?”

Scozzafava related a recent incident in Moriah. A resident was alleged to have abused a dog. After investigation by the town animal control officer, the dog was confiscated and taken to a licensed shelter for care while a criminal case played out. Moriah paid $4,000 for the dog’s care.

There have been several similar cases, he said.

A court can charge the animal’s owner for their care, Scozzafava said, but that’s often not realistic. People either can’t or won’t bill the bill.

“Animal abuse is wrong and we need to be vigilant,” Scozzafava said. “This isn’t about animal abuse, it’s about who has responsibility to pay for the animal’s care.”

The state’s animal control laws are vague and need to be addressed, the supervisor said.

“We get an anonymous call,” he said. “Someone claims a dog is being abused. We send our animal control officer, Ed Roberts, to investigate. He gets there and finds the dog is thin, but there’s a bowl of food sitting next to the dog. Ed takes photos, does an investigation. Is the dog thin or malnourished?

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