Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Animal Control Comes A Callin': An Exercise in Soft Tyranny

  For those of you who don't know, we live on multiple acres  on a dirt road in a very rural area.  Our town technically doesn't exist, and  all our mail is postmarked the next town over. We have a quasi-farm populated, from time to time, with chickens, and ducks, and wild rabbits, and dogs and a pony.   The pony, as you will see, is very important.
  Even though we live out in the middle of nowhere outside the city limits of anybody, we have a recurring problem; animal control.  The entire time we have lived there, animal control has taken an unusual interest in us. For example, we had a old beagle that would wander off the property and spend her days in the 25 acres of woods directly next to us.  Sometimes she would visit a family on the  far end of the woods who would hand-feed her chicken strips and corn chips.  This beagle was picked up by animal control, and we were hit with a charge of 'failure to restrain a viscous animal' and an almost $300 dollar fine.  Due to conflicting  schedules, and an inflexible court date, we paid the fine and six months later, that 'viscous animal' had died of old age.  Meanwhile, dogs run free among our sparse neighbors and as long as they aren't killing chickens or tearing stuff up, everybody else is content to live and let live. In fact, the desire to be left alone is what most of my neighbors all have in common.
 But, as I was saying..the pony.  The pony has proven to be quite the lighting rod for animal control over the last several years. Three or four times a year they would stop by unannounced by in the middle of the day, and conduct 'wellness checks' on our animals, especially the pony.  They would usually issue us a warning  concerning some perceived discrepancy but yet they have never had enough justification to go any further. For example, a few years back we were told that our pony was 'underweight' (without a vet being consulted or a scale being used) and that we had  just a few weeks to get him back up to his proper weight or further action would be taken.  This further action would include fines, court appearances, and  the seizure of said animal.  Over the next several weeks we changed absolutely nothing in how we treated this animal, and when the officer returned , the pony was pronounced to be greatly improved.  This scenario has played itself out 3 or 4 times in the last  3 or 4 years, and the end result is always the same; a warning and then no further legal action.  From a  a paperwork standpoint, it looks like animal control is really making us toe the line, but in reality, it is harassment and hasn't changed our actions in the slightest.
  Recently we had another visit from the newest AC officer who told us that someone in the neighborhood was 'concerned ' that the pony was, once again, underweight. In fact, this officer in particular seemed to know that he was specifically 50 lbs underweight.  The officer spoke to my wife and issued a warning, then asked to  see our dog. When we told her the beagle had passed on, the officer asked to see our new dog.  The officer examined our puppy and  proclaimed him to be the very picture of health.   Of course the officer did that AFTER my wife showed  the clean bill of health he had from the vet. A warning was issued for the horse and the officer left, promising to return.
  She did return, albeit while we were not home, and left a note on our door that simply said 'call me'.  My wife and daughter get distraught every time this happens, so I called the officer back and we had  a guarded  but pleasant conversation.  I elected to offer no new information, and she told me what I was doing wrong.  She said she had measured the  pony in our absence and , sure enough, he was about 50 lbs underweight. Keep in mind to do this she had to not only access our property in our absence, but had to enter the horses'  pen, which is chained shut. I was told I was 'under investigation' for neglect and the dire consequences were repeated. I instructed this officer that it was my preference that she deal directly with me and  limit her visits to when I was home, since the actions of her office were causing family distress.  Her 'recommendations' for the pony included exorbitant amounts of veterinary care in order to avoid neglect charges. I asked the officer, quite directly, how long we could expect her repeated intrusions onto our property and she said "as long as it takes" to close out the investigation and insure the pony's health.
  You may ask how is all this possible? How can an animal control officer just stomp around our property, and climb into our horse pen while we are gone?  Well, in my state, the  AC department is given carte blanche under state law. They can appear with or without a complaint , with or without probable cause.  They can write up anything they can see, including things not related to animal control which can then be forwarded to other agencies. Unless your property is completely fenced in with a padlocked gate, they can come in.  I spoke to several horse owners who had been harassed by the agency in our county, and rumor has it that previous officers had been relieved for seizing horses who were 'underweight'. The seized horses would be adopted by the officers as 'rescue animals' and eventually resold for a profit. One horse owner in particular had to not only  gate their entire property and padlock it at all times, but had to install a privacy fence since officers were making their reports from the roadside.
  So, just a few days after that phone call, we gave the pony away.  I don't know that we really had a choice. It was either live in  dread that a country truck could drop by at any moment, or relocate the animal to a good home with other  horses.  It really was a win-win for both parties and with one less lightning rod at our little farm, maybe  they will leave us alone.  Maybe.
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