Pet private eye feeling dogged by the law

Scott Borgioli has started a mobile Humane Society investugations unit here in Hollister.

The founder of the new, Hollister-based Humane Society of the Central Coast has been met with some skepticism from local law enforcement officials, who say that while his goal is noble, he must follow proper procedures before the agency becomes an animal rescue resource.

In turn, Scott Borgioli said the Hollister Police Department and the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office visited his house to seek more information and take pictures of his vehicle. He called it not “the appropriate approach.”

Hollister Interim Police Chief David Westrick, who oversees the local animal control facility, said he has “tried for months” to meet with Borgioli in person, with no luck.

“I’ve exchanged a couple emails with him and he seems like a genuine guy who wants to do the right thing for our community,” Westrick said. “I’m all about getting as many resources as possible for our community. We want to help folks around here with education and animal welfare – it’s pretty much our mission.”

But other, established animal groups have worked with law enforcement and animal control to set up a memorandum of understanding so the agencies will understand varying missions and responsibilities.

“We check their facility to make sure it’s adequate for their mission,” Westrick said. “If he’s going to rescue animals, we want to see where they’re going; make sure it’s an adequate facility. We have animals we bring in from all over our community. We like to make sure they’re going to a better place and save as many animals as possible.”

Borgioli on April 5 emailed a letter of introduction to Westrick, Julie Carreiro of animal control, the county board of supervisors, the Hollister City Council, Sheriff Darren Thompson and District Attorney Candice Hooper.

In it, he outlined his organization’s goals over the coming months, including:

• Offering humane education classes and presentations at local schools

• Offering investigators to investigate claims of animal cruelty

• And the creation of a website that will “contain valuable information & resources to address animal issues within San Benito County”

Borgioli’s letter said that a “humane investigations unit” within the humane society will “educate the public in regards to the animal laws and standards” and will have volunteers who will get in contact with pet owners “and identify whether or not the condition & care of the animal is in compliance with state laws.”

The letter notes that all investigators will undergo an “extensive” background check, and receive training in animal care and public service.

“The goal is to get the animal out of the situation, collect as much evidence as possible (all investigators are equipped with a camera and special video recorders so that evidence is obtained immediately), obtain a veterinary statement, identify the subject, write a report, and submit everything to the DA’s office to request a complaint.”

This aspect of the humane society’s goal is also a concern to Westrick, who said that humane officers need to be appointed by the local superior court and certified by the state.

“I know he has not been appointed by the superior court or county sheriff and there are no other arrangements with law enforcement agencies,” Westrick said. “I want to support anybody who can assist us, since we’re in down times with the budget and we want to make sure we can assist them. We’ve tried to meet with him for a couple of months now. There’s a process.”

For example, Westrick said that when there is a report of a dangerous dog, “you don’t want to have a duplication of services” with city animal control officers and humane society volunteers both responding.

“It would be nice to integrate the humane society into that continuum, but without any information at all, it’ll be difficult to do,” he said.

Borgioli said that he believes the city is “misconstruing the purpose of our investigations unit” and that his organization needs to have been in existence for a year before its volunteers can be appointed as court-approved humane officers.

“We’re running it more like an educational unit,” he said, discussing plans for the investigative branch of the organization. “We’re providing a unique opportunity to the community where we can go out and have our investigators work with potential animal issues and help the animal owner correct any issues with their pet.”

Borgioli said he met with animal control supervisor Julie Carreiro last Friday, but that he felt the meeting was not productive.

“She did not afford me an opportunity to have a good-faith discussion regarding animal services in the county and how we can co-exist and help each other,” Borgioli said. “The questions were more of an interrogation fashion than anything else.”

Carreiro could not be reached for comment before The Pinnacle’s deadline.

Borgioli said the humane society’s door “is always open for meetings” and that he hopes to have a memorandum of understanding in place by the summer.

He said he found a business card from Sheriff Darren Thompson on his door last Friday and received an email from Thompson on Monday. Borgioli also claims that he saw a police officer take a picture of his Chevrolet Tahoe, which he says serves as the humane society’s “humane investigations and animal transport vehicle.”

“I do not feel that is an appropriate approach,” Borgioli said. “We’re excited about this; we’re happy to work with the city; we’re excited they appear to be interested in working with us and developing an MOU. We want to make sure we have an open-door policy, but I think the approach they’re taking right now is coming from the wrong angle.”

Borgioli said there is “no law or regulation” that requires humane societies to meet with local governmental agencies to establish a memorandum of understanding or fill out an application and have the local animal control investigate the shelter. The humane society has applied for a business license with the City of Hollister and has applied for 501(c) (3) charitable organization status.

“We have a right to exist by California law,” he said. “We’re operating as an educational outfit. If we can help the animals and the owners, then it’s a win-win situation. We’re not a police force. We’re not issuing criminal citations, though we can proffer complaints to courts about people who do intentional cruelty and neglect.”

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