Jeanne Sager | Democrat
Now, Animals Have a Friend in Sheriff's Deputy Debra Hall
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO September 7, 2007 There’s a long tradition of police charged to “protect and serve” the folks who cannot protect themselves.
The Sullivan County Sheriff believes that mission goes a step farther.
Among the methods used by Michael Schiff to modernize the county’s police force since he took office in January 2006 was the decision to send three deputies to courses on animal cruelty investigations late last year.
Since then, additional deputies have made the trip to Rockland County to complete the course.
Animals are often the unfortunate victims of circumstance, Schiff explained.
“If people want to take advantage of them, they can’t speak up,” he said simply. “We’re there to look out for the animals themselves it may sound corny, but it’s true.”
It’s technically the job of any police officer within the state to enforce Article 26 of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law.
That being said, it’s of special concern for many of the folks at the Sheriff’s office because they’re animal lovers, Schiff said.
A former K-9 handler for the New York State Police, Schiff has always had pets in his home and so do the majority of the deputies in the patrol unit.
One in particular has taken the ball and run with it since the training course last fall.
Deputy Debra Hall has answered a large percentage of the complaints made to the Sheriff’s Office since last year.
An 11-year veteran of the office who switched from corrections to the patrol division in 1999, Hall was a member of the first class sent to Rockland County for training.
Her name has featured in almost every story on animal cruelty since including the ongoing case against accused animal hoarder Gloria Smith in Cochecton.
Hall was on the scene at Smith’s home when the county removed 82 cats from Smith’s basement she answered an anonymous tip and got the ball rolling.
It’s not always like that, she was quick to point out.
“Some of them are minor; some of them are not,” Hall noted. “Some are a dog is tied out and doesn’t have a doghouse… some are 80 cats in a basement.”
Only a fifth end up going to court, she estimated, in part because of the work she and other deputies do with the animals’ owners.
“Our first thing we like to do is issue a notice to comply,” she explained.
An owner is given written instructions on how to rectify their situation and a date for a reinspection by deputies.
“We try to educate the animal owner,” Hall explained. “We tell them it needs a doghouse or some kind of shelter, it can’t be on a 2 foot chain because it needs some room to run, it needs water, and you need to anchor the bowl so it doesn’t get knocked over two minutes after you’ve put it out…”
The idea if possible is to create an owner who will take better care of an animal.
The deputy can set the length of time an owner has to make corrective measures.
If it’s spring, for example, and a doghouse has to be purchased, Hall will allow time for the owner to get a paycheck in and make the purchase.
If, on the other hand, a dog has been in a fight and needs urgent veterinary care, she’ll make the order effective immediately.
Once an animal owner corrects the problem, most cases are dropped, Hall said.
“As long as they comply, then it’s OK,” she noted. “We’re not out to take everyone’s animals away from them.
“That’s a last resort.”
In cases where the animals are in grave danger, Hall said the county’s best bet is to request the owner sign a surrender form.
Once surrendered, an animal can be taken by the county to a shelter and put up for adoption.
“We try to get the animals to an adoptable state as quickly as possible,” Hall said. “It’s only fair to them.”
If the owner refuses to give up an animal that has been seized, Hall said the next best option is to petition the court for a security bond.
“This way, the impounding agency whether it’s the county or one of the towns is not racking up costs for the animal’s care,” Hall said.
The court can order the owner to provide the funds to cover the animal’s board for up to 30 days plus veterinary expenses.
If the animal hasn’t been returned in that time, the impounding agency can return to the court to request another bond.
Once a petition has been granted by the court, Hall said the animal owner has five days to post the money.
If they don’t they forfeit the rights to get their animal back.
“The owners still have to be held responsible,” she noted. “If they can’t afford to post the security bond, then they can’t afford to take care of the animal.”
Sometimes an owner who simply can’t afford proper care under the law will prompt a call to the Sheriff’s office.
Other times it’s a nasty neighbor trying to stir up trouble.
It doesn’t matter.
“If a call comes in for animal cruelty or animal neglect, it will be investigated by the Sheriff’s Office,” Hall said. “We have other officers it’s not just me.
“[Sheriff Schiff] tries to round out the department so 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there’s somebody working who knows what’s going on.”
Schiff calls it proactive policing.
“It appeared there was a void with that specialty,” he said. “It’s an area most people in the community are passionate about.”
Calls to his office that fall under the police portion of Agriculture and Markets Law (as opposed to the sections that apply only to animal control officers in each township) are steady, he noted.
“Police, by our very nature, take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” Schiff said. “We’re the equalizers, we balance things out.”