Twenty animal control officers, the police, and numerous officials from the Department of Children and Families recently descended on the home-based non-profit “Connecticut Pregnant Dogs and Cats Rescue” in Hebron to remove more than 50 endangered, mistreated animals. What makes this incident even more alarming than the actual facts of the conditions at the facility is that it took place more than a full year after a Connecticut state animal control officer knew there was a problem.
After an initial animal control officer visit and report, the Department of Agriculture found it easier to ignore the problem as animals at the facility were added and conditions there continued deteriorating.
The fundamental problem here is simple: the Department of Agriculture’s split—and on occasion arguably contradictory—mission as promoter of agriculture and protector of animals. On the one hand, it’s been a department-sanctioned practice to allow cutting cows’ tails off for sanitary reasons, making it impossible for the animals to brush away flies and other pests, which is arguably a form of animal cruelty; on the other hand, the department is supposed to step in in cases of animal cruelty. So which will it be?
Other states, including Maine and California, have been wrestling with this contradiction and are considering ways to move animal cruelty enforcement out of their respective agriculture departments.
It’s conceivable that an agriculture commissioner with a multi-faceted background might be able to manage this balancing act, but in Connecticut we have a commissioner who actually proposed allowing factory farming of up to 1,000 rabbits for slaughter per facility (rabbits, by the way, are the third most popular pet in the U.S.). How can we expect, then, that the state Department of Agriculture would in any way shape or form prioritize protecting animals from egregious abuse and neglect?
Thus the massively sad recent scene in Hebron.
There’s something that makes this case even more troubling, though. Because there’s such a clear link between animal abuse and child abuse (a significant percentage of school shooters start out abusing animals), Connecticut in 2012 passed an innovative cross-reporting law wherein the Department of Agriculture is supposed to report to the Department of Children and Families if there’s a child in a home where there’s evidence of animal cruelty. The Department of Children and Families, for its part, is supposed to report to Department of Agriculture if, in investigating a child abuse case, a Department of Children and Families worker finds that there may also be animals involved.
In the Hebron case, an animal control officer did his job and reported to the Department of Children and Families more than a year ago that there was a young child in the house, but new leadership in that department apparently couldn’t find a way to follow up. Had the Department of Agriculture done its job, however, and aggressively pursued the snowballing animal cruelty case, it’s likely that the Department of Children and Families would have found a way to get involved much earlier.
So while it’s clear that state agriculture departments everywhere have to manage their contradictory missions, in Connecticut there’s an added reason why animal cruelty cases should be removed from the Department of Agriculture’s purview: the welfare of kids.
Diana Urban is President and Founder of Protecting Kids and Pets Partnership. She served for 18 years in the Connecticut Legislature.