To The Editor:
This writing is a follow-up to the rally held at the Lamoille County Court House July 14. Dozens of people gathered to request the state prosecutor Paul Finnerty reinstate felony charges against Carol Merchant in the Eden, Vermont, dog seizure in February 2015.
Merchant had over 94 dogs housed in horrible cages of filth and neglect. After the rally, we marched to Finnerty’s office and confronted him with over 4,000 signed petitions. He stated, “The defendant is incompetent to stand trial in her own defense . . . and, therefore, his hands are tied.”
We were very disappointed as passions run deeply for the many volunteers who rescued, rehabilitated and some who adopted these dogs, who to this day suffer from various ailments and psychological damage.
We see this as a bigger picture and perhaps an oversight on the part of the mental health system and the courts. If she is incompetent to stand trial, how can we allow her to have more animals? The defendant is free to live her life without impunity and with no prohibition on animal ownership. We find this unacceptable. For the safety of the animals and the community, there must be a way to fill the gap. Recidivism in these cases is almost 100 percent.
The only individuals on the front line are the animal control officers and law enforcement. These people are poorly trained or have little formal instruction in recognizing and intervening in animal abuse cases. Local dog ordinances are antiquated and provide little direction to intervene. In the Mad River Valley most towns have a dog ordinance that goes back to the 1950s. Vermont has recently created a task force to develop a procedural plan to address humane issues. This will be a few years before it is completed. Meanwhile, we struggle to deal with the many animal abuse cases. In 2015, Vermont saw 460 cases – some unsubstantiated many with no compliance laws to follow. Most of the cases walk away with a slap on the hand.
Acts of cruelty against animals are now counted alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault and homicide in the FBI’s expansive criminal database.
This abuse towards animals is no longer a light matter. It circles around and comes home to haunt us. We must close the loopholes. The mental health system must work closely to ensure this atrocious human behavior is held in check.
Carole Crossman, Warren
For the Love of Dogs/Vermont Dog Rescue