PSPCA Law Enforcement: Regina's Interview
Local animals in need may never get the help they need. As of last Friday, there are no longer SPCA Humane officers anywhere in the western half of the state.
The Pa SPCA was forced to lay off the two officers that covered 26 counties because of a lack of funding.
One of those officers, Regina Martin, said she in no way blames the PSPCA. She said a lot of people don’t know that the SPCA is a non-government, non-profit agency that operates exclusively on donations, and like with so many non-profit organizations, donations are down.
In July, neighbors of a house on Pine St. in Punxsutawney began to worry about the disabled man living there. They soon found that the man had been abandoned by his family, had no electricity or food, and had over 70 cats and a dog. Had it not been for the SPCA officers that cover Western Pa, he may have never gotten help.
"We turned to a lot of different agencies, and the Pa SPCA was the only one that responded very quickly," said one of those neighbors, Elyse Roberts, "The two officers, officers Martin and Freedly, did a tremendous job."
Those officers are no longer on duty. Martin said, for a non-profit agency like the PSPCA, law enforcement positions are simply unsustainable.
"Humane enforcement is very financially devastating to a shelter's income," Martin said, "You have to understand, they're not only paying for our salary, but we bring animals in, and there's no funding for the care and even the cage space that the seized animals take up at a shelter."
Martin began working animal cruelty cases at the end of March, and was joined by a second officer in August to help cover 26 counties. Together they investigated and resolved 288 cases, but Martin says there are thousands more that, now, may never get the help they need.
"As of when we were let go, we have 86 cases that have been opened, which means we had responded and found an issue and were working with the owners to rectify the situation and make it better for the animals," Martin said, "So we have those cases that are still open, which means they will not be handled."
Residents in Punxsutawney have seen the difference that the humane officers have made, and now worry about the void left by the PSPCA cuts.
“If we have another Pine St. case, which I’m sure they’re out there, who are we going to call? Are they going to send someone from Philadelphia al the way out to Western Pennsylvania? I don’t think so,” Roberts said.
Martin believes that there is a solution to the problem, but that it's going to take a lot of work and cooperation.
When humane officers issue a citation, the money from the fines goes to the state. However, the PSPCA get no state funding. That's something Martin hopes will change with the new administration.
"We are trying to put our heads together and come up with, maybe is there a way to find state funding? Is there a way to do an animal lottery? Is there a way to put two cents tax on animal products and have that go into funding just for humane police officers?"
After the Pine St. rescue, neighbors held a small fundraiser for the PSPCA to say thank you.
"I know that we had started a fund after the 4th of July weekend rescue," Roberts said, "And we got in a little over $500, and that was just one tiny ad, once, in a newspaper."
Martin believes that concept can be applied on a much larger scale to increase donations through education and advertising.
She says there is an enormous need for officers, and that it's unreasonable to expect local law enforcement to pick up the slack.
"Technically, the local police or the state police could handle it, but they run in to the same exact problem, and that's why they don’t handle it," Martin said, "Where would take the animals? Who would absorb the cost of caring for the animals? So right now, it looks like it's a no-win situation for the animals."
Whether it's new legislation or increased donations, Martin says we need to find a solution, and we need to find it soon.
"We need to not let this go away," she said, "We need to rattle some cages and keep stomping on the floors, and demand, because we have an obligation. We are animal caretakers, and we have an obligation to be able to follow that through and care for them properly."
Martin is encouraging everybody to contact elected officials and urge them to create legislation to help fund the PSPCA.
UPDATE: DO NOT SEND DONATIONS TO PSPCA. ASK REGINA HOW TO HELP NOW THAT THEY CLOSED THE LAW ENFORCEMENT DIVISION. We need voices and support in that direction with funds to come when we have a place for them to go ... Thanks Regina
Additional Info written by Dr.Faith Bjalobok to help explain the PA laws. A link to Animal Law Coalition, with an article that delves more into the problem. Article 1487
As the animal law (5511) now stands its enforcement is up to local non-profits. There are numerous problems with this arrangement. Lack of accountability (Tiger Ranch), arbitrariness (a non-profit can decide to quit enforcing 5511 PSCPA just did)), insufficient training, financial drain on animal shelters, 5511 is in fact a second class law at best, public lacks access to disposition of calls, and nepotism. The victims of this arrangement the animals. Our goal for 2011 is to obtain a mandate to finance a state agency to enforce 5511 and for all humane officers to come under that agency whether it be an existing agency like PSPCA (infrastructure in place) or the creation of a new state agency. I hope that all animal lovers can get on board with this so we can guarantee that the non-human animals living within the state of PA do in fact have some legal protection and that 5511 is enforced uniformly statewide. This will take an all out effort from all of us who believe that we have a duty to safeguard defenseless animals from cruelty and abuse. Hopefully we can all come together and overcome our differences of opinion to make this happen. The animals need us and we all know the frustration of being unable to aid an animal that needs our help because our calls are unanswered.