Who's protecting the animals of Lancaster County? No one


UPDATE: We have learned that the Pennsylvania SPCA currently has no sworn officers who would have the authority to investigate cruelty cases in Lancaster County. The Large Animal Protection Society says it has a volunteer officer who responds to cruelty calls involving large animals in Lancaster County, as it does eleswhere in the southeast, but did not provide information on how many cases it handled last year or their outcomes.  Its website page on court cases has not been updated since 2008.


Lancaster County is the epicenter for the state's dog breeding industry. It is home to the largest livestock auction East of the Mississippi and is likely home to more farm animals than any other county in Pennsylvania.

It also now has no fulltime animal cruelty officer.

The Humane League of Lancaster County laid off one-third of its staff on Friday, among them, 18-year veteran Keith Mohler, the last cruelty officer they employed, the shelter spokeswoman, Mary Wallick said.

The move came on the same day the shelter began implementing its "no kill" policy and closed its doors to strays.

So the abused and neglected animals of Lancaster suffered a double whammy at once.

There is no one to call with cruelty complaints and no permanent shelter to take the animals picked up on the street or those that are the subject of cruelty investigations.

While the number of licensed commercial dog breeders has plummeted since the new dog law took effect in 2009, Lancaster remains the hub of the state's dog breeding with kennels housing 114,000 dogs last year.

And those are the dogs in the licensed kennels. There are countless "downsized" and underground kennels that continue to operate in what animal welfare advocates call a "mecca" for cruelty.

"This is a tragic occurrence for animals in Lancaster County," said Bob Baker, who over 30 years has conducted numerous investigations for various groups in Lancaster and helped draft the 1982 dog law. "I can't think of another county in the state where animal abuse is so prevalent with hundreds of puppy mills, an active trade in horses destined for slaughter, a notorious livestock auction, and countless farms utilizing horses often inhumanely."

The Dogs of Lancaster County. The county's dog breeders - most of them Amish and Mennonite - historically have racked up some of the most abysmal kennel inspection reports, been the focus of undercover probes and many cruelty cases.

The world got a glimpse into the conditions in which many dogs lived when Lancaster kennels were featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2008. Granted the dog law passed that year has improved conditions in large kennels - on paper at least - even as dog law enforcement office under the Corbett administration scaled back inspections of commercial kennels. (That policy changed last year after an outcry over the reduced numbers of inspections and failure to cite violators.) 

In recent years more than a few large-scale hoarding cases - including at least one involving an American Kennel Club breeder - and dog dumping cases have made the news in the county.

The Livestock of Lancaster County. Lancaster is home to the notorious New Holland Stables and Auction, which moves thousands of animals a week to slaughter, including horses. But that's not the only auction. Mel Hoover's Auction, which along with New Holland has been the subject of many cruelty investigations. Then there's Green Dragon, which once auctioned dogs to the highest bidders, and still sells small animals like guinea pigs, rabbits and birds at its Friday night auctions.

The Farm Animals of Lancaster County. When you consider that the main source of transportation for many Amish and Mennonites in Lancaster is horse and buggy and those who are farmers use horses to work their fields and machinery, it is hard to imagine that any other county in the state has more farm animals in its boundaries. 

Cruelty is a fact of farm life, even more so, sadly on Amish and Mennonite farms. It's not uncommon to see horses driven hard down paved roads with noticeable limps or draft horses standing in the fields with deep wounds where ill-fitting harnesses cut their flesh. When they are no longer useful, the plow and buggy horses are dumped at auction and often end up on the kill buyer trucks.

At one time the Large Animal Protection Society and the Pennsylvania SPCA  investigated cruelty complaints in Lancaster, but it is unclear whether either group is actively doing so today.

In the past four years the PSPCA - which once took on some of the worst animal abusers in the state rescuing thousands of animals in the process - has retreated in the face of a string of lawsuits by convicted animal abusers. It has closed its satellite shelters, laid off staff outside of Philadelphia and focused almost solely on city complaints.

There's some hope for strays ahead in Lancaster. A new group, the Lancaster SPCA, has just set up temporary quarters in an old armory in Lancaster and is opening to the public on Monday. The shelter has signed contracts with a number of municipalities to provide care for their animals.

Wallick said the Humane League hopes to hire a cruelty officer in the future depending on the budget, but did not say how soon.

Until then, she told the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal, residents should call 911.

(Photos: Lancaster dog kennel/Pet Watch New Jersey

Horse/Hoover Auction/Animals Angels 2011)