OPPENHEIM - Two months after moving to Fulton County, a dog rescue ran afoul of another state's agriculture laws when the animals were brought back to Massachusetts for veterinary care.
Help A Hound, a non-profit rescue and adoption agency that began in Fitchburg, Mass., in 2009 and moved to Oppenheim last January, now is forbidden from operating in Massachusetts and owes $4,500 in unpaid fines to the state Department of Agriculture.
Owner Veronica Thompson, who says she still lives in Massachusetts, said she had trouble finding reliable veterinary care when she moved Help A Hound to its 68-acre site on Lotville Road in Oppenheim in January 2010. Two months later, she brought seven dogs to Massachusetts to take to her vet, but the state accused her of not following laws on dog importation.
Massachusetts laws require an interstate health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian and proof of a rabies vaccine when dogs are brought into the state, said Catherine Williams, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. Dogs also are required to be held in a state-approved isolation facility for 48 hours, at which point they must be examined by a vet before being adopted or transferred.
Williams said Help A Hound was inspected March 15, 2010, and officials the next day issued the cease-and-desist order and ordered seven dogs to be surrendered. Thompson surrendered five dogs in April and was fined $4,500. She said she hasn't paid because she doesn't have the money.
In Oppenheim, Help A Hound takes in about $300 for every dog that's adopted. The funds go toward any necessary vet care, vaccines and, if needed, spaying or neutering, said Thompson, who runs the operation with her son, Glyn, and his wife, Kim.
The group has placed about 30 dogs in homes since June, Thompson said, but not without considerable angst. Help A Hound has been the subject of complaints by neighbors and visits by law-enforcement agencies, and found itself under scrutiny from Oppenheim's dog warden, who has been investigating reports of hoarding townwide.
William Lints, who became dog warden in January, said he has counted as many as 94 dogs at Help A Hound, whose facility has 1,170 square feet of living space, according to Fulton County tax records. He said, like anyone else in the town, Help A Hound's animals are subject to dog-licensing and vaccination laws.
"My best visual guess is there were four dogs in compliance," Lints said.
Lints said only registered humane societies and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are exempt from the state Department of Agriculture & Markets' licensing and vaccination laws.
He said Help A Hound also needs to comply with a new town law that limits most households to six dogs. A permit can be obtained for residents seeking to house up to 15 dogs, and residents can apply for a special permit to house even more - a provision designed for dog breeders or similar businesses - if they have proper facilities.
"I can tell you right now, Veronica will not meet that standard," Lints said.
The law became effective Jan. 1, but residents have until late April to comply.
Thompson said Help A Hound now has 70 dogs - more than its optimal number of 25 - and has stopped accepting dogs for the time being. She insisted the company is a legitimate shelter and animal rescue, accepting dogs surrendered by their owners and seized by agencies, including Gloversville Animal Control, she said.
Thompson said she considered moving to Oppenheim full-time, but she feels like she's been treated with hostility. She said she found a warmer reception in eastern Fulton County, where the Tractor Supply store in the town of Johnstown has donated food and hosted adoption events.
"That's why we do our adoptions in Gloversville," she said. "People over there are so friendly and wonderful."
Bill Pitcher is the city editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.