Central PA woman charged with cruelty in latest bad rescue bust

With the closure of more than 250 large scale commercial breeding kennels in the past three years, some may say Pennsylvania has shed its reputation as the "puppy mill Capital of the East."

Is the state now taking on the mantle of "bad rescue" Capital?

Two weeks ago it was a Delaware County German Shepherd rescue operated by attorney Terry Silva that was raided.

Now humane officers in Franklin County, west of Harrisburg, have filed cruelty charges against a woman who ran a Rottweiler "rescue" where humane officers found 19 dogs living in filth and eight dead puppies in the freezer.

Joanna Toms, of Waynesboro, was charged with 27 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the Rottweilers - one of them suffering from severe malnutrition - removed from her home on March 11.

The animals had been living in filth, said Andrea Hough, executive director of the Antietam Humane Society.

"It was disgusting," she said. "Dogs were tethered to furniture, one was tied to the sink. Feces and urine were everywhere."

Toms also faces three violations of the dog law: running an illegal kennel and failing to have rabies certificates and dog licenses for some of the dogs.

Toms ran Rottstop Rehab and Rescue where she said she rehabilitated abused Rottweilers.

"It appeared to have been a legitimate rescue at one time but changes in her personal life in the last year started a downward spiral," said Hough. "She is no longer a legitimate rescue."

She said humane officers began investigating after a complaint about conditions at the property about a month ago. Toms husband, Gary, called to surrender the dogs on March 9 after Joanna Toms suffered a medical emergency and he said he could not care for the animals, Hough said.

Toms' website says she has worked as an investigator for Pet-abuse.com, the only nationwide database of animal abusers, since 2003 and also served on its board.

Alison Gianotto, founder of Pet-abuse.com said in an email that Toms has not worked for the organization in many years.

On the website's homepage Toms writes that she educates people "on the connection between animal cruelty and human violence in an effort to help people understand."

One emaciated dog, which Hough said scored a 2 on the body index scale of 1 - 10 where 1 is near death, is still under vet care and being treated by Better Days Animal League in Shippensburg,

Hough said she has heard from rescues that placed dogs with Toms who took in Rottweilers from other rescues who expected she would rehabilitate them and adopt them or give them a permanent home.

The Public Opinion of Chambersburg reports that among those seized were 18 adults, one recently lactating female and eight puppies in a freezer, according to a citation filed Monday by Pennsylvania Dog Law Enforcement Officer Georgia Martin.

Hough said only two dogs - older adult females - were spayed.

The number of dogs and the size of the large breed dogs taken in forced the small Antietam shelter to seek help from neighboring shelters, including Cumberland Valley Humane Society and Adams County SPCA, which took in several dogs.

Antietam will keep five dogs that need socialization and training. "Don't forget these dogs were raised to protect people," Hough said.

For more information on bad rescues check out Pet Watch New Jersey.