Delco bust highlights fake rescue issue

UPDATE - We have learned that in November 2010 a property used by Silva to house dogs was raided by the PSPCA after complaints of unsanitary conditions and sick dogs and a caretaker was charged. Also, Silva was issued a state kennel license in 2009 and it was renewed through 2012, despite numerous violations, including poor record keeping and failure to possess health certificates from dogs transported from other states. It is unknown if her license was renewed for 2013. The address listed for Silva's kennel was 1617 JFK Blvd., Philadelphia, which is the Suburban Station building.

When humane society officials raided the Delaware County law office of Terry Silva on a grungy block in Marcus Hook on Friday, they pulled out 28 malnourished German Shepherds and shepherd mixes, including a puppy, a pregnant female and one dog so old and sick it had to be euthanized.

"They were very, very thin," said Wendy Marano, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania SPCA. The good news: Silva surrendered the dogs and they will be available for foster and adoption, she said.

The building

Nine years ago Silva was on top of the world, winning a $317,000 settlement in a dispute involving the Chichester School district where she was solicitor. Then 43, she was described in an Inquirer profile as tenacious and detail-oriented.

The media attention the Villanova-trained attorney has gotten ever since has been far from laudatory.

In April 2010 Silva was cited in connection with an illegal dog transport bringing dogs from a North Carolina shelter to her organization, Sixth Angel Shepherd Rescue. Silva was charged with purchasing dogs in a public place. The driver of the transport van was cited for housing animals in filthy cages and 17 dogs were seized by humane officers.

In a second case that year, PSPCA officers raided and cited a caretaker, Steve Alston, who was operating a kennel for Sixth Angel. An investigation began after complaints of unsanitary living conditions and dogs not receiving vet care. entered into a consent decree in which he agreed that the animals at the property were living in unsanitary conditions and were being denied veterinary care.

Silva sued the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement in both cases. At least one lawsuit is still pending in federal court, Bengal said.

Silva's website says she started her animal rescue to honor the 9/11 search dogs who worked at the World Trade Center, and says her rescue was licensed by the state.

Since then Silva has been cited multiple times by local authorities for barking dogs and operating rental properties without a permit.

Now she faces multiple counts of animal cruelty. Her Petfinder page, that on Friday showed eight healthy-looking dogs for adoption, was swiftly taken offline.

The ABC news story of the Friday raid below shows dogs being removed from the two-story building where Silva had her law offices. Zoning inspectors immediately condemned as unfit for human habitation.

"Every place in the building was covered with urine and feces," said George Bengal, the PSPCA's director of humane law enforcement. He said some dogs were found crammed in crates and others locked in different rooms.

In the ABC news report, the anchor and reporter express amazement that an animal hoarder could masquerade as a rescue.

Truth is, it happens all the time. In the last week alone, four hoarders pretending to be rescues have been exposed in the region and animals removed, said Libby Williams, whose website PetWatchNJ tracks fake rescues.

Driving the fake rescue business is desperation among shelter operators in the South and Appalachia where cash-starved dog pounds are forced to euthanize large numbers of animals, there is little access to spay/neuter services and pet owners allow their unaltered animals to roam. 

In the past several years in Pennsylvania and South Jersey, authorities have busted numerous pseudo "rescues" many claiming to help save animals facing death in southern shelters.

Authorities in multiple states have removed hundreds of sick and injured animals from so-called rescues among them, Faithful but Forgotten in Fayette County and Tiger Ranch, one of the nation's worst cat hoarding cases, near Pittsburgh. Just last month Dawn Scheld, who ran SOS Canine Rescue and Rehabilitation in Cape May County NJ, was sentenced for animal cruelty two years after authorities removed 60 sick and injured dogs and other animals.

Terry Silva told her website readers that the mission of her rescue was to help address the "plight of the southern dog" and to promote the German Shepherd as a family dog. She writes:

We believe that God will judge a man by that which he chooses in his life to treat as trash