Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jack-Booted Animal Cops?

The Pocono Record ran a story detailing how the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Pennsylvania is running roughshod over the rights of everyday Pennsylvanians.

To be honest, I felt like I was reading the script to a mob movie when I read an account of horse owner Linda Jones-Newman’s dealings with the PSPCA. Apparently, an overzealous vet called the animal cops when he thought a horse should be put down and the owners refused to acquiesce. The PSPCA officer showed at their property, issued a warrant, and told them “This can end right now. If you give me all of your animals, this can end,” according to Newman. Apparently, the officer ordered the animal taken from its stable and assassinated in front of its owners. They then proceeded to seize all of the animals the Newman’s had as evidence. Some of that “evidence” was destroyed. For example, a miniature cow was killed by the PSPCA because it was dehydrated. I guess killing the animal was cheaper than some water and an IV to rehydrate the animal. After reading another article, about botched attempts to euthanize pets at PSPCA facilities, a bullet might have been more humane.

Worse, some of this intimidation is standard operating procedure. According to the story, PSPCA officers are trained to “intimidate people into giving up their animals.” There may also be a quota involved with animal seizures. According to PSPCA officer Tammy Kerr, her Christmas bonus was based on the number of animals she took from their owners.

According to another story in the Pocono Record, these same officers trained to intimidate people into surrendering animals will be armed in January. Personally, I have no problem with someone being armed. What should be cause for concern is the legislation sought by Democrat House Member James Siptroth of Pennsylvania’s 189th Legislative District. Representative Siptroth introduced a bill to grant these same officers civil immunity. In effect, this would free the officers from civil liability in cases involving damages brought by a person involved in an investigation. This would allow them to also enter private property without fear of civil litigation and allow them to “break down doors” according to the article. While it didn’t make the cut in 2008, Democrat Siptroth intends to reintroduce the legislation in 2009. When asked about fear that the law gives PSPCA officers carte blanche over the rights of private citizens, Siptroth is quoted as saying “If they are treating their animals properly, they have nothing to fear.” Siptroth predicts passage in 2009.

The charges against the Newman’s were dismissed after paying a $75 fine for a dirty living area for four of their dogs. The judge ordered their animals returned to them, that is, those that the PSPCA didn’t already kill. According to the Newman family, the animals were returned in worse condition than they left. The animals suffered from fleas, ear mites, and matted hair. One dog was returned in a urine soaked cage. Incidentally, had the Newman’s had their animals the condition that the PSPCA returned them in, they probably would have received additional charges.

The Newman’s might have been lucky. According to the article, 50% of the cats in a Venengo County case died while in the PSCPA’s “care” as “evidence.”

The Pocono Record received this answer from the PSCPA regarding their criticism. The Pocono Record also has a chart that lists the number of animals put to sleep versus adopted by the PSPCA.

1 comment:

iamlazarus said...

"When asked about fear that the law gives PSPCA officers carte blanche over the rights of private citizens, Siptroth is quoted as saying “If they are treating their animals properly, they have nothing to fear.” Siptroth predicts passage in 2009."

The reverse should also hold true - if the Humane Officers are acting w/in the law they should have nothing to fear. The sad truth is that there are too many incidents where Humane Officers, and PSPCA management, have acted outside the law and there is zero accountability. These folks are not public employees, are not subject to any formal monitoring or review, and are known to use their ill defined authority to harass and intimidate pet owners and animal rescuers.

This bill represents an outright theft of citizen rights and is being sold under a false premise: it's difficult to recruit HSPOs because of the high cost of liability insurance. First, acquiring adequate personal liability coverage is not nearly as expensive as you'd think based on all the hooplah. Second, the PSPCA has pretty deep pockets, I'm sure providing as an employee benefit would not break the bank.

But wait, Siproth and his aides will tell you that this is not about the PSPCA - there are numerous non-PSPCA HSPOs scattered throughout the state. This is true, yet I haven't heard much from them. What's also true is that the PSPCA has publicly stated their intention to have one of their HSPOs in every county by the end of 2009. The bill stinks. The justification stinks. Constituents should be contacting their legislators post-haste in order to avoid further degradation of their civil rights and protections under law.