Forum focuses on state of animal welfare in Connecticut

New London — On one end sat a veterinarian who lamented lack of knowledge on animal-rights laws within the veterinarian community, and a lack of state resources to manage the laws. On the other sat the state representative behind many of these laws in recent years.

"Where's the state of Connecticut going to find the employees to manage half these laws?" questioned Christine Puskaric, founder of Compassionate Care Veterinary Hospital.

Rep. Diana Urban — who has two race horses, two miniature donkeys, two pitbulls, a Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix and a lab — said that when people see pet stores or others breaking the law, they need to speak up.

"You're right, we don't have the money to have an animal control officer go into a pet shop on a daily or weekly basis," Urban replied.

This was just one issue among many discussed in a wide-ranging forum on animal welfare that the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut held at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum on Thursday evening.

Joining Puskaric and Urban on the panel were Gordon Willard, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society, and Susan Linker, founder of the nonprofit Our Companions Animal Rescue.

Urban is not running for re-election, and one of the 40 or so people in attendance questioned who would take over her mantle of animal-rights activism in the General Assembly. Urban cited Republican House members Brenda Kupchick and Fred Camillo, and fellow Democrat Susan Johnson.

One issue Puskaric brought up was that rescue groups often ask veterinarians for discounts but veterinarians are trying to run a business and "the burden of all the rescue animals in Connecticut can't fall on our pocketbooks."

Willard said there needs to be a 19 percent increase in veterinarians by 2026.

One issue he brought up was the swing from an overabundance of dogs at the humane society in the 1980s to a situation today in which demand outpaces supply, a shift due to the success of the spay-and-neuter campaign over time.

"We get calls every day from families looking for a family dog," Linker said. "Unfortunately, we're having a real hard time meeting that need."

She said the South and other areas have not been as successful with spaying and neutering, so Connecticut imports about 20,000 dogs per year to meet demand.

But when she sees stray cats wandering the streets, she's shocked at the disparity between how people treat dogs and cats.

Other topics the four speakers discussed included pet stores lying about selling dogs from puppy mills, ways to keep animals in their homes, shelters falling into disrepair and Urban's anger at Gov. Dannel Malloy's veto of a bill that would have created a registry of convicted animal abusers.

Their collective takeaways were that animal control needs to be reassessed, the veterinary community needs to become educated on state laws, and those passionate about animal rights should get politically involved.

"We need to learn how to talk animal," Willard said. "Don't ask the animals to talk human."

e.moser@theday.com

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