Schenectady County

County to give SPCA dog enforcement powers

The Schenectady County Legislature will give the local animal welfare group jurisdiction to enforce

The Schenectady County Legislature will give the local animal welfare group jurisdiction to enforce dog control and licensing laws throughout the county under an agreement announced Monday afternoon.

Mathew Tully, chief of the Schenectady County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the agreement will let SPCA peace officers issue dog license tickets under state Agriculture and Markets Law.

Tickets will be issued under the penal provisions of the law, rather than the civil provisions, meaning the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office will be responsible for prosecution.

“We wanted someone to write the tickets everywhere in the county, and the county will codify this into the law,” Tully said.

The county Legislature is expected to introduce a local law, titled the “Vicious Dog Control Act of 2012,” at its November meeting.

Fines collected through the tickets, which start at a minimum of $25, will be split equally between the SPCA and the county. Both would use the money for animal enforcement purposes, such as paying to house and care animals seized by SPCA officers, Tully said.

Under the contract, which is expected to take effect Nov. 15 and last a year, the county would help maintain the SPCA’s sole vehicle, which it uses to investigate animal cruelty allegations and to transport seized animals to shelters, and provide the SPCA with surplus vehicles.

Tully said the SPCA will focus primarily on investigations of animal cruelty and will occasionally run zero-tolerance events on dog licensing, similar to the DWI sweeps police agencies run.

“By us going out there and cracking down on dog licensing, more people are likely to comply with the law,” Tully said.

He said all dog licensing fees go directly to the municipality where the dog resides.

The agreement ends litigation over control of animals the society seizes in investigations and raids. The SPCA filed a lawsuit in state Supreme County two weeks ago after the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office refused to accept a dog and 44 cats the society seized from the Rotterdam home of Michelle Regel.

“This agreement resolves the issue with the sheriff, but we could use this law with any municipality with a police force,” Tully said. “Schenectady County is the first county to do this for us, but it is not the first county to do so. Suffolk and Nassau counties have similar agreements with their SPCAs.”

In its lawsuit, the SPCA cited state Agriculture and Markets Law that designates the county’s sheriff’s department as the agency charged with taking custody of and ensuring care for an animal belonging to someone arrested by an officer of the local Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Schenectady County Attorney Chris Gardner last week said the agreement will “usher in a new era of dog control and animal control in Schenectady County and will directly address the problem of vicious dogs in the city.”

Acting Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the addition of the SPCA as dog control officers will supplement what the city is doing to control vicious animals.

Rosalie Ault, executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, said the proposed county law is fine as long as the SPCA does not step up seizures of animals under it. “The SPCA has no place to take them, and we are not equipped to handle dangerous animals,” she said.

Ault said the county needs a municipal animal shelter, something no municipality has been willing to build. She said the APF is maxed out for space when it comes to housing animals, and other area shelters are full as well. The city is contracting with Montgomery County SPCA on a case-by-case basis to house seized animals.

“You could build a shelter, but the answer is to spay or neuter pets,” Ault said.

Tully said Schenectady County has neither a “good spay-neuter program, nor a shelter.”

The APF runs a spay-neuter program, but charges $80 per animal, a sum some people can ill afford, Tully said.

“People can’t afford $10-$12 for a dog license, and they can’t afford $80 to spay or neuter their pets,” he said.

Ault said the APF could lower the fee if it received a subsidy, perhaps through the new county law. “We are breaking even at $80,” she said.

The APF spayed and neutered 4,000 animals last year, she said.

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