PSPCA hires fulltime cruelty officer for Lancaster County

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Lancaster County's top animal cop is back, soon-to-be-badged and ready to bust those who mistreat animals.

The Pennsylvania SPCA announced Tuesday it has hired Keith Mohler who has been investigating animal crimes in the heart of the state's dog breeding region for three decades.

Mohler was laid off from the Humane League of Lancaster County in January after the shelter closed its doors to stray cats and dogs and stopped handling cruelty cases.

“With numerous commercial breeding operations located in the county, it is vital that Lancaster County has an active humane law enforcement presence,” said Jerry Buckley, CEO of the PSPCA. “The Pennsylvania SPCA was active in Lancaster County for many years. Our experience and familiarity with the area will benefit not only the animals, but also the citizens of the county concerned with the well being of companion animals.”

Under the leadership of Howard Nelson the PSPCA aggressively investigated and won convictions of operators of some of the worst puppy mills in Pennsylvania, among them Limestone Kennel in Cochranville, and the veterinarian - Tom Stevenson - that enabled them.

But the organization retreated to Philadelphia after Nelson's resignation in 2010, amid a board shake up and lawsuits by dog breeders.

Buckley said the PSPCA decided to expand its operations and return to Lancaster to fulfill its law enforcement mission.

In addition to having the largest concentration of dog breeders, Lancaster County is home to New Holland Stables, the largest livestock auction east of the Mississippi and the nation's largest Amish and Mennonite population, many of whom use buggy and plow horses and raise dairy cows and other farm animals.

Lancaster County district attorney Craig Stedman, who is providing office space for Mohler, applauded the move.

“The law enforcement community welcomes the services of the Pennsylvania SPCA,” said Stedman.. “Keith Mohler is a well respected, veteran humane officer who has built strong relationships in this office and the county. We are jointly dedicated to fighting animal cruelty and this hiring will absolutely make a positive difference for the animals in this county.

The PSPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement team is led by George Bengal and with the addition of Mohler will have 13 officers operating in 17 counties.

In 2012, the Pennsylvania SPCA investigated more than 10,000 complaints of animals cruelty ranging from abuse and neglect to breeding operations, hoarding and animal fighting among others and rescued more than 1,300 animals.

Mohler's position, including expenses, is budgeted at $60,000 and will be supported in part by Lancaster Humane. Mohler said he will start within days, as soon as he is sworn in as a humane law enforcement officer in the county.

The PSPCA spends $1 million on law enforcement activities - all of it privately raised - each year. PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano said the group, with the help of Lancaster Humane, would handle funding for veterinary care for animals seized on a case by case basis.

  In 2012 the PSPCA petitioned the courts for $774,000 reimbursement for care of animals seized. It received a mere $31,000 in restitution.

Mohler, who by night is a professional jazz musician, began investigating cruelty in the now-closed Lancaster stockyards and issued the county's first citation for a downed cow that was suffering at an auction.

Mohler told me in February he was concerned that the public would have no one to call to investigate cruelty.

"They could put a note in a bottle," he said, half joking.

Now they can call the PSPCA's cruelty hotline at 1-866-601-SPCA.