Saturday, December 20, 2014

They shoot dogs don't they? In Harrisburg that's called animal control

Pennsylvania's motto is "State of Independence."

They shoot dogs don't they? In Harrisburg that's called animal control

Dusty Rose, a female pit bull, was rescued by volunteers who found her near a dumpster at a convenience store in Harrisburg on New Year´s eve.
Dusty Rose, a female pit bull, was rescued by volunteers who found her near a dumpster at a convenience store in Harrisburg on New Year's eve.

Pennsylvania's motto is "State of Independence."

Perhaps it should be "State of Inhumanity."

With animal shelters left and right ending animal control contracts and closing their doors to stray cats and dogs - the very duties most of them were established to perform - the state of animal control in the Commonwealth is horrific.

Nowhere are things worse than the Capital city, Harrisburg.

Sometime last fall, perhaps earlier, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, which operates the key animal shelter in the area, stopped performing animal control services for the city of Harrisburg.

Why? The bankrupt city owned the shelter roughly $6,300.

There was no announcement to the public of any alternative plans made by the city and no warning issued to residents that lost pets were in jeopardy of being struck by a car, stolen executed by police or, perhaps worst of all, removed by police and abandoned in the wild.

Curiously however, in a WHP-21 television news report last week, Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson said the situation had been resolved.

But reports persist of stray animals being turned away by the shelter and of police telling residents they could do nothing to help them except "take care" of the animal if they deemed it aggressive.

In a Dec. 5 memo obtained by the Inquirer, Harrisburg Police Capt. Annette Books told police supervisors that because the humane society was no longer taking strays officers were to do the following:

If the animal is vicious and a danger to the public and/or officers, or if the animal is obviously sick, injured or suffering the animal may be destroyed in as safe a manner as possible. The animal will then be taken to the Agriculture Bldg. (near the loading dock area) on Cameron St. for disposal.

The memo outraged animal welfare advocates who said the policy was not only inhumane, it was illegal.

"A police officers cannot play judge, jury and executioner in the case of a stray dog," said Tom Hickey, a member of the governor's Dog Law Advisory Board. "The only problem is Pennsylvania law doesn't allow it. They must first hold an animal for 48 hours."

In a Dec. 29 email, Robert Philbin, spokesman for Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson, said the memo's instructions were "moot" because the city has started making payments to the shelter to satisfy their debt.

"The Mayor and the CEO of the Humane Society had a cordial and productive meeting two weeks ago to establish a reporting program to identify the source of animals processed and a payment agreement," said Philbin. "The city has begun payments and the society and police department have implemented an identification and reporting system."

A humane society spokeswoman said in an email this morning that talks were under way.

"We are engaged in ongoing discussions with city officials regarding services for stray animals and we feel they are making an effort to make stray animals a priority," said spokeswoman Christina Wiley, who added any questions about services "not provided while the city was not under contract" should be directed to the city.

But the fact remains - according to animal rescuers - that the city shelter continues to turn away stray animals and that police officers are telling the public they cannot help unless the dog is aggressive. In which case, according to the memo, they will be shot.

Dusty Rose could easily have been one of them.

The female pit bull was found in distress outside a mini-mart on busy Cameron Street on New Year's eve - only a few blocks from the Department of Agriculture offices where officers were told to take the bodies of dogs they destroyed.

Pat Wadsworth, a 65-year-old volunteer with Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance (CPAA), was making her rounds feeding sterilized stray cats that live throughout the city and are cared for as part of the group's Trap, Neuter and Release program.

Wadsworth called 911 after noticing the dog, who was cowering near a dumpster, appeared "out of sorts." When a police officer arrived she said he told her the only thing he was authorized to do was shoot the dog if it was aggressive.

Wadsworth told him she would seek help elsewhere and called fellow CPAA volunteers who helped round up the dog, who went quietly into their car.

Dusty Rose was whisked to an emergency veterinary hospital in York where she is recovering from costly ($1,600-plus) surgery to fix a prolapsed uterus, a life threatening condition not uncommon in heavily-bred dogs.

What if a Harrisburg resident's dog was lost and did not pose a threat? Here's the city's solution to that problem, according to Books' email:

If the animal is determined to be a "found" animal, the officer can ask the complainant if they want to keep the animal or if they know someone who will adopt the animal, or the officer can adopt the animal for himself/herself, or the officer can place the animal in a prisoner van and release it to an area where it will be safe for the animal.

What "safe place?" A park? A forest? An upscale neighborhood in suburbia?

Abandonment of dogs violates the state's animal cruelty law and in addition, releasing domestic animals "into the wild" is against state game laws.

Perhaps the most chilling line in the memo is this:

If you choose to adopt the animal yourself or release it in a safe environment, DO NOT inform the complainant of your intentions.

Maybe the officer could say the animal is going to "a nice farm in the country?"

What we do know is that Harrisburg animal control has been shuttling animals 60 miles away to a shelter in Chambersburg in an attempt to save their lives for months.

Nancy Gardner, president of the board of the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and a member of the state's Dog Law Advisory Board, recently informed the state they would no longer take strays from out of county because they cannot afford it and do not have space.

She said her shelter has taken in 80 dogs from Harrisburg and the surrounding area this fall.

Kris Baker, a Harrisburg resident and volunteer with CPAA, said her group, which has no shelter and relies on a network of foster homes, picked up four stray dogs in the city last week.

Is this just a Harrisburg city issue? Is this "just a pit bull" issue?

Not by a long shot. The city's canine residents include Gov. Corbett's own beloved Airedale pups, Penny and Harry. Yes, there is a high wall surrounding the governor's mansion, but there are gates with openings a dog could slip through.

Still the fate of a neglected pit bull - who was overbred and abused through no fault of her own - should be of equal concern to the citizenry - all of whose pets are at risk right now.

Baker has started a Facebook petition drive (http://apps.facebook.com/petitions/4/stop-the-shooting-of-stray-dogs-in-harrisburg-pa/ to "Stop the Shooting of Dogs in Harrisburg" and said she fears for her own animals should they get loose in the city.

"To think that if my home were broken into and my dogs got loose, or I was walking them and something happened to cause me to lose control of my dogs, or a fire and my dogs escaped only to fall into the hands of City Police who would either shoot them and dump them in trash bags behind the Department of Agriculture or dump them in a remote location, sickens me," she wrote in an email.

Funds for Dusty Rose's care can be sent to C.P.A.A. or donations can be taken through its website . Checks should reference Dusty in the memo line to be applied directly to her care.

Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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Amy Worden Inquirer Staff Writer
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