Windham County Sheriff's Office has an animal control officer

Ashley Pinger, animal control officer for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office.

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Editor's Note: This article was updated at 11:30 a.m. on July 9, 2021, to include comments from the Putney town manager.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 11 a.m. on July 9, 2021, to include comments from the Windham Select Board.

NEWFANE — The Windham County Sheriff’s Office is adding an animal control officer to its roster.

“About 10 years ago we provided an animal control option,” said Sheriff Mark Anderson.

But that duty was just one of many the deputies were tasked with, he said.

“Working with the towns, the different ordinances, the inconsistencies ... it just became too cumbersome for the deputies,” Anderson. said. “Quite frankly, it has its own skill set.”

In response to a need expressed by town managers and select board chairpersons, Anderson hired Ashley Pinger, who is the animal control officer in Hinsdale, N.H.

Right now, the Sheriff’s Office has ACO contracts with four towns — Putney, Westminster, Windham and Newfane.

“This is part of our plan to create a regional animal control service,” said Anderson.

While it will still be the town’s role responding to routine calls, such as barking dogs and enforcement of leash laws, Pinger will offer a suite of services that include responding to vicious animal complaints, reports of animals wandering around without tags or animals that bite, and registration and licensing.

Russell Hodgkins, Westminster’s town manager, said licensing all the dogs in town is a very time-consuming task and by one estimate, only about one-third of dog owners in town go through the process.

“We have nobody to enforce this process,” said Hodgkins, adding it’s a public safety issue.

“Our biggest concern is that we get the majority registered, making sure they are properly cared for and have gotten their rabies vaccinations,” he said.

It costs $9 to register a dog in Westminster, said Hodgkins, but it’s not about the money; it’s about public safety and the health and welfare of the animals.

“We want people to be safe,” he said.

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Hodgkins also noted that during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many town residents got new dogs for companionship.

“We are losing grasp of how many animals we have in town,” he said.

Hodgkins said Pinger will be assisted by Jeanne Bridges, a volunteer who has been making sure all the animals have been registered.

Kord Scott, the vice chairman of the Windham Select Board, said the issue was put on the town warning this year and voters approved signing on to the sheriff's proposal.

"I've been on the Select Board for a few terms and we haven't been able to find anybody resident-wise who is interested in being the animal control officer," he said.

In the past, said Scott, without an ACO the board urged residents to resolve animal-related issues on a neighbor-to-neighbor issue.

"In most cases, that seems to have resolved the problems, but we have had a few that have not been resolved," he said.

Working with Robert Lakin, a sergeant with the Sheriff's Office, the town created and recently enacted an animal control ordinance and now Windham will be relying on the deputies to enforce it.

Anderson said Pinger brings her expertise as a certified veterinarian technician, but more importantly, her compassion for animals.

He said initially, Pinger will be working through a backlog of animals that need to be registered. Once that’s done, he hopes Pinger can shift her focus to issues such as the region’s feral cat population. He also hopes to expand Pinger’s role to include working with the Windham County Humane Society.

“Most towns already have a direct relationship to the Humane Society,” said Anderson. “As the program grows, we would look to align our services with those offered by the Humane Society.”

"For some rural communities it is a difficult task to employee an animal control officer," wrote Karen Astley, Putney's town manager, in an email. "As established, a shared, regional, qualified animal control officer is beneficial on many levels."

While most towns have some sort of animal ordinance, she wrote, there's no "teeth" to enforce those ordinances.

"The WCSO brings this critical element," wrote Astley. "As Putney Town Manager, I’m optimistic the program will expand into other Windham County communities. Being able to work together to create this system is fulfilling a void that is needed in most rural communities."

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.