Editorial: Animal registry — let’s get this right

Posted 10/25/19

In their efforts to placate some unhappy farmers, Westport boards need to make sure that any Keeping of Animals Registry they agree upon actually accomplishes what it is supposed to.

At their most …

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Editorial: Animal registry — let’s get this right

Posted

In their efforts to placate some unhappy farmers, Westport boards need to make sure that any Keeping of Animals Registry they agree upon actually accomplishes what it is supposed to.

At their most basic, these rules must assure one thing without fail. They should produce a no-loopholes method for Westport to know who is keeping farm animals, how many they own, and where. That’s what state law, common sense, concern for animal welfare, and interest in Westport’s tarnished animal reputation say needs to be done.

The Board of Health seemed set to do just that with its first attempt at a regulation, a draft that was vilified by many in the farming community. They called it intrusive, redundant, too long (fair enough) and worse at a public hearing.

Attempts at compromise between the BOH and Agricultural Commission followed, an encouraging development that appears to have produced some good compromise, especially in the area of redundancy.

But other parts of what has emerged are both confusing and worrisome.

For instance, this from the head of AgCom … “I think the only sticking point we (the two boards) have is mandatory/not mandatory.”

How is this even up for discussion? A ‘not mandatory’ regulation isn’t much of a regulation — restaurants can’t opt out of inspection; dog owners can’t opt out of dog licenses.

Also curious is how inspections might or might not play out. There would be no inspections without consent, it was stated at one point last week. That’s not how the state’s Barn Book process, the one that already oversees most Westport farms, works, nor is it the practice in most instances where inspections are the rule. Isn’t the point of this to actually get a glimpse inside the estimated 200 places where livestock are kept that have somehow managed to avoid an accounting all these years?

It was noted that registration would be a one-time thing. Yet situations change — at farms, for homeowners, for everyone. The fact that a farmer has 10 cows and 30 chickens, all of them well cared for, this year does not guarantee that the same will be true five years from now. Just as odd, it has also been mentioned that the registry might not call for a count of animals, only the “type.”

Nothing in this process is meant to punish or harass anyone and it is not, as some contend, misplaced reaction to the Route 177 cruelty case or an attempt to trample on Constitutional rights. This regulation is meant simply to bring the town into compliance with state law — it’s no different than the myriad rules, bylaws and inspections under which all businesses and individuals operate in any town.

“We, as a community, are expected to know where the animals are and we are expected to inspect them,” said the chairwoman of the town’s Board of Selectmen last week.

That’s the law and that is what this regulation must enable.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.