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WHEATFIELD – The shelter manager at the SPCA of Niagara was announced Wednesday as the organization’s new animal cruelty officer.

Lauren Zaninovich has been certified as a peace officer and will add that to her current duties, SPCA Executive Director Amy Lewis said.

“I am very excited,” said Zaninovich, who joined the SPCA two years ago as a dispatcher on animal cruelty calls and later became shelter manager.

Lewis said the SPCA hasn’t had an animal cruelty officer for the last two years because of financial constraints that caused the last peace officer to be let go.

Some staffing changes produced enough money to send Zaninovich, 25, to the Buffalo Police Academy, where she completed the course recently.

As a peace officer, she will be unarmed but will be able to make arrests in animal cruelty cases.

She said the SPCA has been relying on regular police to respond to cruelty calls.

Zaninovich said some officers don’t seem to understand the state Agriculture and Markets Law that governs animal cruelty, or simply want to avoid the extensive paperwork that comes with such a case.

Lewis said, “The local police and sheriffs have been wonderful in assisting us with animal cruelty cases, but their primary focus is the safety of humans.”

The SPCA will “take back the reins” on such matters, Lewis said, but it will continue to work cooperatively with police agencies.

Zaninovich said that the SPCA’s lack of an animal cruelty officer was “unfortunate, because it’s not representing who we are or what we do.”

She was already working full-time for the SPCA and will fit responses to cruelty calls into her schedule.

Lewis said she hopes the SPCA will be able to add as many as two more officers to its ranks.

Zaninovich will do most of her work outside the City of Niagara Falls.

The city has chosen Officer David Bower, a former patrolman and an SPCA board member, as its city animal cruelty officer.

Zaninovich joined the SPCA of Niagara in May 2012 after working two years as an adoption counselor at the SPCA Serving Erie County.

Zaninovich lives in the Town of Niagara and is the proud owner of a hedgehog.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com