“A law on paper is only as good as the enforcement and the respect that people have for it.”
2014 was the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the law which first required training for officers in PA. When I began work in 1971 there was no training required and none available. People learned what they needed to know from a more experienced worker, or on the job. Humane officers, with the power to enforce the anti-cruelty laws, were given a badge, a map, a copy of the law and a pile of complaints. The miracle is that even under those circumstances much excellent work was done. Humane officers learned to write search warrants with the help of someone in the DA’s office, and citation writing from a helpful police officer, and they learned from their mistakes. The Federated Humane Societies of PA began offering training seminars in 1987. These voluntary sessions were well attended and most officers welcomed the mandated training. A comprehensive program began in 1996 for everyone, including experienced officers, and the Federated Humane Societies of PA holds a 2 day continuing education seminar annually. I have organized and attended these trainings every year and it has allowed me to witness the growth that has resulted. When officers get together each year they share their successes and their challenges and others benefit from their experience. They hear from prosecutors, veterinarians, judges, forensics experts and livestock specialists on a variety of topics that they may encounter in this work and they take these tools back and put them to good use.
The training has increased public confidence in humane officers, which has in turn made it possible to strengthen the laws against cruelty to animals. Penalties have increased for a wide variety of offenses. Transport of horses in double deck vehicles has been banned. In 2004 the law was changed to give judges the explicit authority to order that people convicted of cruelty be restricted from owning or working with animals during the statutory period of the sentence. Passage of the Cost of Care law last year allows an agency filing charges to petition for defendants to start paying for the cost of care of animals held in cruelty cases, before a final verdict is reached. A law on paper is only as good as the enforcement and the respect that people have for it. We’ve made progress there too. Prosecutors handle serious cruelty cases with the same attention to detail that they would give to other violent crimes and judges are handing down significant sentences. Cases are being covered by the press and the public has a better understanding of how cruelty to animals relates to other crimes. Cases that might not have been reported before are now being investigated and successfully prosecuted because of increased public awareness.
Another change, which benefits animals, is improved cooperation and communication between interest groups that have sometimes been at odds in the past. Pennsylvania is an agricultural state, and a unique part of the training for humane officers is a requirement to learn about animals in agriculture. Working with the PA Department of Agriculture, Penn State and the state wide farm organizations to develop the training opened the doors of communication with ongoing benefits. Animal welfare experts from other states are surprised to learn that in PA, the Department of Agriculture, the farm organizations and the Federated Humane Societies enjoy friendly, respectful and productive working relationships. This helps to get good legislation passed and to solve problems for animals in many quiet ways that do not make headlines.
Bucks County SPCA
The Board of Directors of the Bucks County SPCA announced that Executive Director Anne Irwin plans to retire in September of 2015 after 43 years with the organization. The Board has formed a Transition Committee to oversee the selection and hiring of a new Executive Director and will post a job announcement in the near future.
Nancy Holland, President of the Board of Trustees said “We are tremendously grateful to Anne Irwin for her years of unwavering service to this organization. During her tenure, BCSPCA has grown and flourished, having benefited greatly from Anne’s experience, strong leadership and dedication to animal welfare. Her steadfast commitment to this community will leave a lasting legacy.”
Ms. Irwin began work at Bucks County SPCA in 1971 and took the helm in 1975. “It was a different world then. Every day was a challenge with very limited resources and a population of unwanted animals much larger than it is today.” During her tenure the BCSPCA began humane education programs and expanded the cruelty enforcement program. BCSPCA opened a second shelter in Upper Bucks County in 2012 which greatly enhanced the organization’s ability to serve the animals and people of Bucks County.
Ms. Irwin also implemented innovative programs to help animals stay in their homes such as temporary boarding for animals whose families face emergencies, donations of pet food to local food pantries and behavior training and hotline support for pet owners. The organization now regularly saves thousands of animals a year who are either unwanted or living in unsafe living conditions.
Looking back on her time with the organization Ms. Irwin says “The Bucks County SPCA has made such progress. We have a great team and I am happy that we are in a strong position to be a resource for animals and the people who care about them for years to come. I look forward to a smooth transition with the new Executive Director.”
What is the Dog Law?
It is the statute that contains provisions commonly thought of as the “leash law”. It requires licensing of all dogs over 3 months of age. It also requires kennels to be licensed, and includes provisions for inspecting and regulating kennels including large commercial kennels (which are sometimes referred to as puppy mills), nonprofit kennels like animal shelters, boarding kennels and all places that keep a cumulative total of more than 26 dogs in the course of a year. The Dog Law also contains a section on rabies vaccination which requires all dogs over 3 months of age to be vaccinated and all cats to be vaccinated if they spend any part of a 24 hour day inside a dwelling. (Cats that spend all of their time outside are not required by law to be vaccinated). If a dog does damage to livestock the Dog Law contains provisions for the livestock owner to be reimbursed from the Dog Law Restricted Account. Dangerous dogs are also covered. If a dog attacks a person or other domestic animal without provocation, a hearing can be held before a judge where evidence is presented to have the dog declared dangerous. Owners who choose to keep dangerous dogs must carry extra insurance and take additional precautions so that their dog is not a danger to others. The Dog Law also contains a section that requires that animals dogs and cats adopted from shelters or pounds in Pennsylvania must be spayed or neutered, either before they leave the shelter or soon after. It is a lengthy and complex law that covers a variety of topics related to dogs.
Who enforces the Dog Law?
The Dog Law is enforced by police or animal control officers hired local municipalities and also by state dog wardens who are employees of the Department of Agriculture. Dog wardens are the only officers with jurisdiction to inspect kennels and enforce kennel regulations. Humane society police officers cannot enforce the Dog Law. The only law that they have jurisdiction to enforce is Section 5511 of the PA Crimes Code, which covers cruelty to animals. It is no wonder that members of the public are sometimes confused about where to report a problem.
How is Dog Law enforcement funded?
All of the activities of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement are paid out of the Dog Law Restricted Account. The Dog Law Restricted Account is funded principally by dog license fees, kennel license fees, and to a much lesser extent by fines from Dog Law violations. None of the activities are paid for by tax money like other government services, nor are they funded by donations like the work of non-profit organizations. The restricted account pays for a staff which includes administrators, more than 60 dog wardens state wide, a new special team of 4 kennel inspectors who handle problem kennels, and a new special prosecutor to help dog wardens with their important cases in court. It also pays reimbursement for livestock damage claims, and grants to shelters and humane societies which house stray dogs. Dog lovers should know that buying their dog license is the most important step that they can take to assure that important activities like inspection of kennels continue to take place. Kennel inspection and enforcement efforts are what makes sure that dogs are being properly cared for in large commercial kennels also called “puppy mills”. Buying a dog license is a very real way to put your money where your mouth is on this important issue. A multimillion dollar budget is raised every year in $6 and $8 increments when people renew their dog licenses. Licenses are available from the County Treasurer or at the Bucks County SPCA
Why is Dog Law part of the Department of Agriculture?
Dogs are not livestock so this does not make sense to many people. The answer comes from the history of dog licensing in Pennsylvania, which has always been an agricultural state. Statewide dog licensing began around 1920 as a means to establish a fund to repay farmers for livestock damage caused by dogs. The restricted account was established and over the years the rest of the law grew around this original purpose. The restricted account assured the continued activities, since money from dog licenses cannot go into the General Fund to be spent for unrelated purposes.
Morty helps out at the front desk
Nowadays Morty has a pretty great life as the Bucks County SPCA Lahaska Office Cat. He has his very own bed in the back for quiet naps but spends most of his days out and about. Office Cat is a pretty big job here. Morty greets two and four footed visitors, checks on the staff and the shelter animals and lounges on the front desk collecting pats from everyone who passes by.
But things weren’t always so great for Morty. We know from his tipped ear that he spent some time in a feral cat colony and when he came to us in 2005 it was as part of one of the most severe hoarding cases the BCSPCA has ever handled. When he first got here Morty was a shy guy who lived in the back of the shelter, away from the bustle and noise up front. In fact Morty spent the first four years of his residence in the back, occasionally peeking his head out front and quickly retreating.
The animal savvy staff here knew it takes time for many animals, particularly those coming from bad situations, to warm up and show their stellar personalities. It is our job to give them a safe and comfortable place to make that transition. It doesn’t happen overnight – for some like Morty it can take years – but when that transformation happens it is pure magic. Suddenly a whole new and better life opens up not only for that animal but also for the people who open their hearts and homes (or shelters) to him or her.
On the day that transformation happened for Morty he calmly strolled out front and never looked back. Now he is in the enviable position of having almost unlimited lap time, endless strokes and the chance to share his story to help support the transformations of thousands of animals.