The Vermont Statutes Online
Subchapter 001 : Cruelty to Animals(Cite as: 13 V.S.A. § 354)
§ 354. Enforcement; possession of abused animal; searches and seizures; forfeiture
(a) The Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets shall be consulted prior to any enforcement action brought pursuant to this chapter that involves livestock and poultry. Law enforcement may consult with the Secretary in person or by electronic means, and the Secretary shall assist law enforcement in determining whether the practice or animal condition, or both, represent acceptable livestock or poultry husbandry practices.
(b) Any humane officer as defined in section 351 of this title may enforce this chapter. As part of an enforcement action, a humane officer may seize an animal being cruelly treated in violation of this chapter.
(1) Voluntary surrender. A humane officer may accept animals voluntarily surrendered by the owner anytime during the cruelty investigation. The humane officer shall have a surrendered animal examined and assessed within 72 hours by a veterinarian licensed to practice in the State of Vermont.
(2) Search and seizure using a search warrant. A humane officer having probable cause to believe an animal is being subjected to cruel treatment in violation of this subchapter may apply for a search warrant pursuant to the Vermont Rules of Criminal Procedure to authorize the officer to enter the premises where the animal is kept and seize the animal. The application and affidavit for the search warrant shall be reviewed and authorized by an attorney for the State when sought by an officer other than an enforcement officer defined in 23 V.S.A. § 4(11). A veterinarian licensed to practice in Vermont must accompany the humane officer during the execution of the search warrant.
(3) Seizure without a search warrant. If the humane officer witnesses a situation in which the humane officer determines that an animal's life is in jeopardy and immediate action is required to protect the animal's health or safety, the officer may seize the animal without a warrant. The humane officer shall immediately take an animal seized under this subdivision to a licensed veterinarian for medical attention to stabilize the animal's condition and to assess the health of the animal.
(c) A humane officer shall provide suitable care at a reasonable cost for an animal seized under this section, and have a lien on the animal for all expenses incurred. A humane officer may arrange for the euthanasia of a severely injured, diseased, or suffering animal upon the recommendation of a licensed veterinarian. A humane officer may arrange for euthanasia of an animal seized under this section when the owner is unwilling or unable to provide necessary medical attention required while the animal is in custodial care or when the animal cannot be safely confined under standard housing conditions. An animal not destroyed by euthanasia shall be kept in custodial care and provided with necessary medical care until final disposition of the criminal charges except as provided in subsections (d) through (h) of this section. The custodial caregiver shall be responsible for maintaining the records applicable to all animals seized, including identification, residence, location, medical treatment, and disposition of the animals.
(d) If an animal is seized under this section, the State may institute a civil proceeding for forfeiture of the animal in the territorial unit of the Criminal Division of the Superior Court where the offense is alleged to have occurred. The proceeding shall be instituted by a motion for forfeiture if a criminal charge has been filed or a petition for forfeiture if no criminal charge has been filed, which shall be filed with the court and served upon the animal's owner. The civil forfeiture proceeding is intended to run independently from any criminal prosecution and shall not be delayed pending disposition of any criminal proceeding.
(e)(1) A preliminary hearing shall be held within 21 days of institution of the civil forfeiture proceeding. If the defendant requests a hearing on the merits, the court shall schedule a final hearing on the merits to be held within 21 days of the date of the preliminary hearing. Time limits under this subsection shall not be construed as jurisdictional.
(2) If the defendant fails to respond to the notice for preliminary hearing, the court shall enter a default judgment ordering the immediate forfeiture of the animal in accordance with the provisions of subsection 353(c) of this title. A motion to reopen a default judgment shall be filed in writing with the court no later than 30 days after entry of a default judgment. A default judgment shall not be reopened unless good cause is shown.
(f)(1) At the hearing on the motion for forfeiture, the State shall have the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that the animal was subjected to cruelty, neglect, or abandonment in violation of section 352 or 352a of this title. The court shall make findings of fact and conclusions of law and shall issue a final order. If the State meets its burden of proof, the court shall order the immediate forfeiture of the animal in accordance with the provisions of subsection 353(c) of this title.
(2) Affidavits of law enforcement officers, humane officers, animal control officers, veterinarians, or expert witnesses of either party shall be admissible evidence that may be rebutted by witnesses called by either party. The affidavits shall be delivered to the other party at least five business days prior to the hearing. Upon request of the other party or the court, the party offering an affidavit shall make the affiant available by telephone at the hearing. The court may allow any witness to testify by telephone in lieu of a personal appearance and shall adopt rules with respect to such testimony.
(3) No testimony or other information presented by the defendant in connection with a forfeiture proceeding under this section or any information directly or indirectly derived from such testimony or other information may be used for any purpose, including impeachment and cross-examination, against the defendant in any criminal case, except a prosecution for perjury or giving a false statement.
(g)(1) If the defendant is convicted of criminal charges under this chapter or if an order of forfeiture is entered against an owner under this section, the defendant or owner shall be required to repay all reasonable costs incurred by the custodial caregiver for caring for the animal, including veterinary expenses. The Restitution Unit within the Center for Crime Victim Services is authorized to collect the funds owed by the defendant or owner on behalf of the custodial caregiver or a governmental agency that has contracted or paid for custodial care in the same manner as restitution is collected pursuant to section 7043 of this title. The restitution order shall include the information required under subdivision 7043(e)(2)(A) of this title. The court shall make findings with respect to the total amount of all costs incurred by the custodial caregiver.
(2)(A) If the defendant is acquitted of criminal charges under this chapter and a civil forfeiture proceeding under this section is not pending, an animal that has been taken into custodial care shall be returned to the defendant unless the State institutes a civil forfeiture proceeding under this section within seven business days of the acquittal.
(B) If the court rules in favor of the owner in a civil forfeiture proceeding under this section and criminal charges against the owner under this chapter are not pending, an animal that has been taken into custodial care shall be returned to the owner unless the State files criminal charges under this section within seven business days after the entry of final judgment.
(C) If an animal is returned to a defendant or owner under this subdivision, the defendant or owner shall not be responsible for the costs of caring for the animal.
(h) A forfeiture order issued under this section may be appealed as a matter of right to the Supreme Court. The order shall not be stayed pending appeal.
(i) The provisions of this section are in addition to and not in lieu of the provisions of section 353 of this title.
(j) It is unlawful for a person to interfere with a humane officer or the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets engaged in official duties under this chapter. A person who violates this subsection shall be prosecuted under section 3001 of this title. (Added 1989, No. 270 (Adj. Sess.), § 2; amended 1997, No. 130 (Adj. Sess.), § 11; 2003, No. 42, § 2, eff. May 27, 2003; 2003, No. 120 (Adj. Sess.), § 5; 2009, No. 154, § 238; 2013, No. 201 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; 2015, No. 155 (Adj. Sess.), § 7; 2017, No. 11, § 24.)