Letter to the Editor from Dr. Sarah Lautzenhiser
As a citizen of this county, a veterinarian for 16 years, and a resident of Antigo for seven years, I am very concerned about the way in which cases of animal abuse and neglect are handled in our area.
I have been meeting with law enforcement and county committees on this topic since February of this past year, and researched the types and numbers of calls to dispatch involving animal complaints, as well as the scope of responsibility of humane officers and animal law in Wisconsin. I recently completed Wisconsin Humane Officer Training and Certification in September. Training is extensive and includes not just topics of animal law and the law governing Humane Officers, but also assessment of animal husbandry practices, body condition scoring, search and seizure, rules of evidence, civil liability, courtroom testimony, report writing, interview and interrogation, crime scene photography and more.
Upon my return I called a meeting of the sheriff, police chief, corporate counsel, prosecuting attorney, and our judge. The sheriff refused to attend or send anyone from his department. I returned from this training with lots of information to share, but was told that the matter needed to be discussed further with the sheriff amongst others.
Along the way, I’ve seen firsthand how frustrating it is for our citizens to try to report animal abuse, the uneducated way our law enforcement responds to these cases, and poor collaboration.
I’ve been contacted about several cases of animal abuse and neglect, and asked my opinion, after which point as I’ve tried to follow up with the law enforcement my calls to the sheriff department are not answered. I’ve submitted an open records request on one of the cases that is going on for over a month, and was provided with a one page document that had minimal information, only stating that an officer was called to investigate a complaint at the location. That report has not been changed, as of yesterday, in a whole month, and yet the sheriff department will not return my calls on what the status of the investigation is. When I emailed the sheriff and other officials regarding there being lack of food for some horses on a few occasions I drove by, and provided photographic evidence of the poor condition of the horses (obtained legally from the road), I was told through the sheriff department that I should not intervene any further as it may interfere with the investigation.
I personally ended up caring for a dog that was a victim of abuse, and party to a criminal complaint of cruelty to an animal, for 35 days in my clinic, because the city would not take custody of the dog so that he could go elsewhere for fostering during the hearings and court procedures pertaining to the criminal complaint against the individual.
I was called out to evaluate a situation of a cat-hoarding residence and made recommendations as to what should happen with the cats, but now my calls to the health department are not being returned.
Your elected county officials, as of the Langlade County Board Meeting on November 15th, were given the opportunity to appoint me as interim volunteer Humane Officer, without pay, and voted no.
I am deeply frustrated by the inability of county officials to put down their personal objections or biases and not make a decision that is best for the animals of Langlade County.
The board deferred the topic back to the Public Safety Committee and Public Health Department, who have already done the same and are recommending to send a law officer and health department employee to Humane Officer training, which is not until September 2017.
In the meantime, there are ongoing cases of animal abuse and neglect that are in the hands of untrained law officers. These cases are not being investigated with a trained eye, or followed through on, as has been the case for years past. And the law officers and health department are not using my resources and in effect, shutting me out of the collaborative process.
Unfortunately, as in many issues, politics appear to take precedence over reason.
If you take issue with the decisions of the county board and wish to impact this in a positive way, please call the members of the Public Health Committee and Public Safety Committee, prior to their next meeting in the coming month.
Dr. Sarah Lautzenhiser
Owner, Antigo Veterinary Clinic
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