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Vermont bill would ease ways to seize abused animals

MONTPELIER — Some Vermont animal rights advocates are calling on the Legislature to make it easier to seize abused animals from their owners so they can be placed sooner in permanent new homes.

Under the current law, it can take months or years between the time abused animals are seized and when a court can hold a hearing that would allow the animals to be connected with new owners, and there is no mechanism to help pay for the care of seized animals.

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A proposal being considered in the Legislature would set a six-week limit between the time the animals are seized and holding a civil forfeiture hearing. The bill would also require animal owners to post bonds within 72 hours of the seizure for the care of the animals and allow animal rescue groups to draw from that money.

‘‘The whole world is watching Vermont to see how we handle this,’’ said Becky Williams of Stowe, a veterinary assistant, who circulated a petition given to state officials last week with more than 1,400 signatures.

She and others were at an event at the State House, where they promoted the legislation.

The Caledonian Record reported that in one Lamoille County case used as an example, six draft horses seized in January 2012 are still being cared for by volunteers and a group called PETS of the Kingdom. Caring for those horses has cost an estimated $25,000.

‘‘It is not fair for an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization to pay for animals that were poorly treated,’’ said Joanne Bourbeau, Northeast regional director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Under state law, rescue groups can’t find homes for seized animals until the civil forfeiture procedure is complete and the law doesn’t specify how quicly that must occur.

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn is caring for two of the six horses seized last year.

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