BRATTLEBORO -- Annie Guion knows the struggle of having to surrender an animal because someone can't physically or financially take care of it.
Recently, Guion, executive director of the Windham County Humane Society, and Brattleboro Police Animal Control Officer Cathy Barrows, had to seize four dogs from a residence along Vernon Street because the animals had allegedly been neglected by their owners.
One of the dogs, a 2-year-old terrier mix named Riley, has spent the last three weeks at the shelter being treated for Lyme disease, fleas and ticks.
The three people police say were responsible for the dogs, 21-year-olds Cathlyne Tirrell and Christina Moses and 73-year-old Wesley Moses, have each been charged and pleaded not guilty to four counts of cruelty to animals.
Guion said that it wasn't "overt abuse" but rather people merely struggling to provide basic care for their pets and it's something very prevalent in Windham County.
"This dog could have stayed with the girls if they had taken care of him," she said.
"It's like a low-grade fever," she said of the problem. "People aren't beating their animals or starving them intentionally ... they're just having trouble caring for them."
Each year millions of dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters for various reasons and about half aren't spayed or neutered, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
In Windham County, Guion, her staff, and local veterinarians are trying to provide a solution for the problem locally.
She said there seems to be a lot of animal exchange in Windham County between people who can't afford to take care of their pets and it often doesn't lead to a better situation.
"For example, someone may call to ask for help with medication for their dogs or cats and when they bring them in we notice they're not spayed or neutered," she said. "When we ask about that their response is usually, ‘Oh we're breeding them for profit.' But if they're having trouble paying for medical attention for the parents, how can they expect to pay for the babies?"
The major reason owners are even questioned about their animal's health has to do with the lack of flea and tick medication, licensing and rabies shots, which can be expensive, she said.
Recently, through a grant from the Banfield Charitable Trust, the Windham County Humane Society, was able to offer free health care, including spaying and neutering the pets of eight people.
Over the course of six months, 25 animals were treated for Lyme disease and given flea and tick medication. The results were astonishing, Guion said.
"One of the cats came in with heavy hair loss and looked destitute," she said. "But the problem was solved easily enough with the treatment and you could hardly recognize it afterward."
After the success of the program, Guion and her staff got together to create the Pet Care Assistance Program, which helps people get pay for such treatments.
Approved applicants can get free pet food once a month, medication based on need, vaccines and low-cost spaying or neutering.
"We're just trying to catch the people who can't afford to walk through the full-services vet clinics," Guion said. "Our local vets have done amazing work for us and to meet the needs of our animal community and we'd prefer people to be able to go to them, but we also understand people's financial difficulties."
As for Christina Moses and Cathlyne Tirrell, Guion said she was very familiar with the situation after trying to help them with their various animals for the past two years.
She said the girls had fallen into a pattern where they'd acquire animals, there'd be that "low-level of neglect" which led to the animal's ill health, then they'd either give them away to friends or surrender the animals to the humane society, then acquire more.
Guion said that didn't mean they shouldn't have animals, however.
"Low-income people are just as entitled as anyone to have pets, maybe even more so," she said. "They may need the companionship more, but that also doesn't excuse them from being responsible pet owners."
According to the affidavit of probable cause filed in Windham County Superior Court last week, the property where Wesley Moses, the two young women and the four dogs lived, had trash, animal feces and rotten food strewn about.
Among the animals taken was a pit bull puppy named Hydro who was adopted out quickly, the terrier mix Riley, who was just put up for adoption, and two Chihuahuas named Diablo and Macho.
Both of the Chihuahuas ultimately had to be euthanized after veterinarians attempted for several days to sedate and calm the animals to no avail.
Guion said the necessity for the two dogs to be euthanized was "extremely rare."
After a brief phone interview with Christina and Cathlyne, attempts for a follow up were unsuccessful.
Police said additional charges against Christina, Cathlyne and Wesley are pending.
For more information about the Windham County Humane Society, to donate money to its cause or if you have questions about animal surrender, contact them at 802-254-2232 or email@example.com.