“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