Our View: Humane Society's power needs to be in check

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The local arm of the Humane Society aims to hold pet owners accountable for how they treat their furry companions. But what happens when someone questions the judgment of Humane Society officers and wants to challenge their decision? That?s where the real problem lies. In recent Journal stories, some area animal owners have run into problems when they want to lodge a complaint about actions taken by an officer of the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills. Whether those complaints are valid or not, the local Humane Society and its officers need to be held accountable for their decision-making, if and when a citizen and animal owner wants to question them. In May, details of a February incident came to light in the Journal over questions of the treatment of an aging horse. A couple who wanted to adopt the horse was denied ownership. The reason is a he said-she said battle, but ultimately the hopeful owner acquiesced to the horse being sent to a care facility in Greenwood. The horse appeared to suffer during transportation and the reason why is the subject of a contentious and emotionally fueled debate. Roseville resident Alexis Reynolds says Humane Society Officer Rosemary Frieborn?s judgment is to blame, while Frieborn defends the decision she made and the treatment of the horse. So who can objectively settle this claim? When Reynolds tried, she discovered there was no recourse. The Placer County Sheriff?s Office said they would forward the complaint to the State Humane Association of California. When the Journal called a representative for the association, Features Editor Krissi Khokhobashvili was told another branch of the society would look into it but the representative would not say which one. Chances of the organization actually looking into the complaint sound slim. Locally, residents can lodge a complaint with the local Humane Society board. But Frieborn sits on the board, making an impartial investigation not possible in this case. Humane Society officers go through 100 hours of training and then have the power to serve warrants, seize animals and arrest people in regard to animal abuse and neglect. With additional training, a Humane Society officer can also carry a gun. They can also ? and have done so locally ? assess fees on owners for the care a seized animal receives. There is an administrative hearing that occurs after officers initially seize an animal. During that hearing, owners can argue their case before an administrative hearing officer. However, the officer only rules if the seizure was justified or not. As the oft quoted Voltaire saying goes, ?with great power comes great responsibility.? If ordinary citizens can get a little more than two weeks worth of training and then be empowered to take animals as they see fit and then decide their care from that point forward, there should be a better way to hold them accountable. Local law enforcement needs to take an active role and investigate complaints of humane officers. It?s not right that the only other recourse is for an animal owner to file a civil lawsuit, which many may not have the means to do. Animal safety and the humane treatment of them is important, and the humane society has played a big role in promoting the proper care of animals. But they, like other enforcement agencies, need to be able to be held responsible and be responsive to criticism when it occurs.