Animal rights advocates chafe at abuse measure

DENVER — Animal rights advocates are up in arms over a bill they say would allow abuse of livestock and create a different standard for when authorities can intercede to protect them.

The measure, House Bill 1125, strips the authority of animal control officers to order when livestock can be seized if they are not properly cared for by their owner.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, said the measure more properly puts that decision into the hands of people better educated to say when livestock are in danger: a veterinarian.

“I understand animal control officers are probably upset because it takes a little of their authority away, but I want somebody with 12 years of schooling, a veterinarian, making the decision of whether or not animals should be taken from their environment, rather than someone that’s had 12 hours of training,” the Sterling Republican said.

Sonnenberg said most cases that involve seizure of livestock because of suspected cruelty or neglect already are done on the advice of a veterinarian. The bill just makes it a requirement in all cases, he said.

But Judy Calhoun, legislative liaison for the Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agencies, said the bill does little more than create a second standard for protecting livestock, and a more difficult one to reach.

The result will be that when horses, cattle and other livestock are abused, there will be little control officers will be able to do about it, she said.

“Our concern is it requires law enforcement and animal control officers to treat livestock differently from other animals,” said Calhoun, executive director of the Larimer County Humane Society. “We also have some concerns of the challenge of getting a veterinarian out to examine an animal in a timely fashion in a rural area. That potentially puts those animals at a higher risk.”

The bill, which is to be heard in a House committee today, is sparked in part by a case in Clear Creek County last summer when more than 100 animals were seized from a ranch near Idaho Springs.

Animal rights advocates, however, say that case came about after numerous complaints were filed with the county’s animal control office, and several warnings were given over a six-month period.

According to court documents in that case, an animal control officer visited the animals numerous times, eventually seizing them and filing a dozen animal cruelty charges.

The owner, however, argued that the officers took healthy animals, too, and jeopardized his ability to operate his ranch.

“What we saw here in the Clear Creek County case, we had them take animals, euthanize animals, castrate animals, and now the court has found the taking of those animals was unconstitutional and ordered their return,” Sonnenberg said. “But, oops, now they’re gone.”

According to court records, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian was consulted before those animals were seized.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the Legislature dealt with this issue in a bill he introduced with Sonnenberg last year. He said he’s not willing to make any significant changes until that new law has had a chance to take effect.

“It sounds like he’s trying to put more obstacles in the path of protecting animals,” Steadman said. “It’s sounds like something that’s going to complicate the procedures we were trying to simplify last year.”



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