MANATEE -- Animal advocates in the county are working to create a program that would give abused animals representation in court in animal abuse cases.
The animal representative would be responsible for investigating what happened to an animal when abuse is suspected and would advocate on behalf of the animal.
The idea is still in its formative stages but got its first test recently after a Palmetto police officer rescued a 2-year-old pit bull treading water with just his nose above the water line.
The dog was tied to a line that was attached to a 30-pound dumbbell acting as an anchor. Blackie the pit-bull could not touch the river bottom.
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An animal advocate, serving as a sort of Guardian Ad Litem for the dog, has looked into the case and is expected to testify when William Bell appears in court Friday on felony charges of animal cruelty. He is set to appear before Judge Gilbert A. Smith.
Laurie Crawford, the president of Animal Network, Inc. and a member of the Animal Services Advisory Board, suggested a Guardian Ad Litem program for animals and the idea took off.
“Animals don’t have a voice for things in court,” said Bill Hutchison, the county’s public safety director. “What better way to give them a voice than to have a person go out and evaluate.”
The county already has recruited its first volunteer for the position. Charles Hamilton, who serves on the county’s animal advisory board and writes pet pages, will represent animals in an unofficial capacity for now.
Carol Whitmore, Manatee County commission chairwoman, is writing a draft of what she hopes will become official policies and procedures for an animal Guardian Ad Litem program to be used within the county’s Animal Services division if an animal is abused.
The idea is in place, but an official program is still a long way off. The Animal Services Advisory board will have to review the policy and procedures, the county’s legal counsel would have to review the document and it would need to be adopted.
Manatee County is not the first to consider such a program. There are now courses in law schools across the country aimed at animal welfare and animal safety.
A federal court appointed a guardian for 50 pit bulls owned by professional football player Michael Vick after he was arrested on animal cruelty charges, according to federal court records.