Animals: Time to step up

Posted 9/12/19

For those truly interested in what Westport’s proposed Keeping of Animals rules actually say, they are spelled out on the town’s website.

For versions unmoored from reality, check one of …

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Animals: Time to step up

Posted

For those truly interested in what Westport’s proposed Keeping of Animals rules actually say, they are spelled out on the town’s website.

For versions unmoored from reality, check one of several chatrooms where some are doing their utmost to stretch the truth and terrify townspeople.

The fact is, if ever a town needed a Keeping of Animals regulation, it is Westport.

This is the town where animals — horses, sheep, cows, ducks, alpacas, you name it — suffered and died for years out of sight back in the woods beyond American Legion Highway. The horrors were uncovered once, quickly forgotten, then resumed before becoming the focus of worldwide disgust.

The ASPCA, whose rescue mission here lasted many months, called it the northeast’s worst ever animal cruelty case.

It all happened, and managed to lure animal bad-actors from far and wide, because nobody was paying the slightest attention. Those entrusted by Westport to watch over animals had to know but, for reasons unclear and suspicious, they looked the other way.

The property owner is now dead; guilty findings produced nothing in the way of penalties for the tenants. Clearly those who treat animals terribly are biding their time until Westport forgets again, just as it always does.

The Keeping of Animals rules do nothing but declare what would should be obvious — any town should know who is keeping farm animals, how many they own, and where.

And a community owes it to those animals, and to its own reputation, to make sure that those creatures receive proper care. That can’t be done without inspections — and the possibility that those inspections might be unannounced.

It is essentially the same treatment as any business (home businesses included) expects. Restaurants, retail stores, groceries, bars, legitimate farms — they all get spot checks and nobody squawks about privacy.

Much of the outcry is not merely untrue (cats and dogs aren’t included, nobody is going to burst into homes), it is strange and it raises questions.

Wouldn’t anyone who raises farm animals want it known that they operate in a town where animals are kept humanely, provided veterinary care, and fed real food, not sawdust or rotten sweetbread?

And what is it exactly that so frightens some people about inspections that they would spread nonsense to keep it from happening?

One often hears in Westport that the Route 177 ‘farm of horrors’ was some sort of aberration, that this is a changed town where such behavior could never happen again.

Yet when the Board of Health puts many months of study and hearings into a document modeled on state rules, some shriek that their very way of life (and ability to treat animals any way they choose) is at peril.

Existing rules (town and state), and lax enforcement have failed Westport and its animals.

This Keeping of Animals regulation is simple common sense and the Board of Health should stick to its guns. Otherwise, that on-line noise about Westport’s good old days when what happened to your animals was nobody’s business, is fair warning that the Medeiros ‘farm’ spirit is alive and well.

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Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.