Letter: Setting the record straight on Keeping of Animals rules

Posted 9/12/19

To the editor:

The release of the draft Keeping of Animals regulation for public comment has caused concerns among the farming community about how the regulation would affect their privacy and the …

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Letter: Setting the record straight on Keeping of Animals rules

Posted

To the editor:

The release of the draft Keeping of Animals regulation for public comment has caused concerns among the farming community about how the regulation would affect their privacy and the operation of their farms. Unfortunately, some of the statements being circulated that sparked those concerns are mistaken or misinterpret the regulation’s intent. I am writing to correct some of these misperceptions with the goal that it will lead to further constructive discussions and a revised draft.

Let me address some specific concerns. The regulation applies only to agricultural livestock, not to dogs, cats or other pets normally kept in the home or non-domesticated animals. Cats and dogs in particular are subject to a wholly different set of regulations under the authority of the Animal Control Officer. There will be no inspections inside anyone’s home.

The is no requirement for a permit, notification of abutters or a hearing before a person can maintain or bring animals onto their property. The only obligation is to file a registration form that states the location, the number and type of livestock and how to get in touch with owner.

The parts of the draft regarding inspections and access were taken directly from the existing Westport 2018 Pig and 2019 Tenant Farm Regulations. Those regulations were adopted by a unanimous vote of the prior Board of Health and only after extensive consultation with the Agricultural Commission. The section of the regulation on access to buildings and animals is taken directly from the state law that governs animal inspectors’ duties. At no point during the public review and adoption of those regulations were concerns raised about violating farmers’ rights.

The regulation does not authorize and neither does the Board of Health allow an agent to trespass on anyone’s property to conduct an inspection. Filing a registration is not intended to waive a property owner’s rights in this regard. It has always been the Board’s practice to either schedule an inspection or leave a notice if an owner is not present and arrange for a follow up inspection. That will continue to be the case.

The process to develop the draft was designed and carried out to solicit and incorporate the farm community’s interests. I spent many evenings this summer with representatives of the farm community and animal welfare advocates to jointly hammer out a draft that reflected good faith compromises from all parties. The draft was reviewed at a public meeting of the Agricultural Commission on August 14 where it was approved to go out for further public comment. (See the video at https://vimeo.com/354248712).

This statement does not attempt to acknowledge all the objections and fears that been expressed through the letters the board has received, in social media and in conversations. What I hope it can contribute to is the next round of fact-based, good faith discussions that will work through these concerns and garner the broad support necessary to achieve the public health and safety and animal welfare goals that Board of Health, the Selectmen, and the public, through its Town Meeting votes, have consistently expressed.

Philip Weinberg

Chairman, Westport Board of Health

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