Is there a void in animal protection in county?
Loss of Humane League officer creates questions, concerns BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
Who can you call if you see an animal being mistreated?
When the Humane League of Lancaster County fired its only animal cruelty officer this year, some folks worried the county had no coverage in cases of animal abuse.
Well, there are options, but members of the local animal-care community say there aren't enough to handle the workload.
"I'm not comfortable with the current state of things at all," Keith Mohler, who worked more than 25 years as an animal cruelty officer, said last week.
"I know how many calls I handled ... the number of times I got search warrants, searched puppy mills and confiscated animals," he says. "There just aren't the resources right now to handle those calls."
When the Humane League stopped accepting strays Jan. 31, it reduced its staff by about a third; Mohler, the League's only cruelty officer -- down from three a year prior -- was among those let go.
"The story I got was, budgetarily, they had to do what they did. The only other choice was closing their doors," Mohler says. "But there was more than enough work to keep three of us busy."
At the time of Mohler's dismissal, a Humane League spokeswoman said cruelty cases should be reported to local police or ORCA. If it's an emergency, she said, call 911.
"Animal cruelty laws are in the crime code, and it is the police's responsibility to enforce them," Mohler agrees.
But cruelty officers don't just respond to calls, he says.
"There's a lot of education, there's checking on past cases," he says. "It's not all confiscating animals and going to court.
"It's not as glamorous as it seems on Animal Planet. It's a lot of legwork, a lot of grunt work. And there's plenty of work for us in Lancaster County."
The Lancaster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which formed earlier this year to take strays no longer welcomed by the Humane League, doesn't have a cruelty officer. Executive director Susan Martin hopes funds become available to hire one soon.
For now, she says, the SPCA's focus is running its new shelter at 599 Chesapeake St. Since opening Feb. 1, she says, they've ushered about 120 dogs through their doors. Most of those dogs have been adopted, transferred to other shelters or reunited with their owners, Martin says. Only four dogs -- and a single cat -- were on the premises Sunday.
She hopes to find money for a cruelty officer by next year.
"We certainly do need animal cruelty officers out there," says ORCA's Connie Kondravy. "We're always eager to see more people come onboard."
ORCA -- the Organization for the Responsible Care of Animals -- currently fields two badged cruelty officers in Lancaster County. Other organizations supply a handful more.
But, in an area heavily populated with breeding kennels, feral cats and farm animals, it's hard to say how many animal cruelty officers are enough.
"We're up to date on all our cases," Kondravy says. "But do I think it's going to get busier? Of course I do."
Karen Dinkle, the city's animal control officer, says her workload has increased without Mohler on the job.
"We just couldn't believe that they were getting rid of him," she says. "We need him, or someone like him."
She'd like to see the county employ its own cruelty officer.
"I pretty much handle anything in Lancaster city -- any sort of animal complaint or abuse," Dinkle says. "But I can only respond within city limits. There are a lot of farms and other properties outside of the city that need to be checked. We really need someone."
It's not as simple as having a desire to help animals, Kondravy says. Cruelty officers must be authorized by the state Department of Agriculture.
Besides completing coursework in Harrisburg, she says, cruelty officers must be affiliated with an animal rescue group or shelter.
Kondravy says her husband, John Kondravy, and fellow ORCA officer Jeremy Robinson are sanctioned by the state to intercede on behalf of both pets and livestock.
She knows of two additional animal cruelty officers serving the county -- Linda Gibson with Helping Hands for Animals, based in Lampeter, and Ann Johnson with A Tail to Tell, based in Mount Gretna.
Both officers work pro bono, Kondravy says, but she thinks Johnson has resigned. Neither organization could be reached for comment.
For cases involving larger animals -- horses, donkeys and mules, cows, sheep, goats and pigs -- there's the Large Animal Protection Society.
Based in West Grove, LAPS operates in Chester, Delaware and Lancaster counties and utilizes state-trained, court-authorized Humane Society police officers.
LAPS president Douglass Newbold says the organization has one agent working in Lancaster County.
"We're in the process of getting two more. They're being trained," Newbold says.
The loss of Mohler, however, is "a real crisis for small animals in Lancaster County," Newbold says. "I am disgusted with the Humane League for doing this. It's criminal to leave that slot open.
"The puppy-mill breeders are aware there's no one enforcing the law."
The state Department of Agriculture fields dog law officers, but department spokeswoman Samantha Krepps says they don't address cruelty cases.
"Local and state police handle animal cruelty issues," she wrote in an email. "If our dog wardens encounter cruelty issues, they have to call police to handle the situation."
The Pennsylvania SPCA, based in Philadelphia, once extended its reach into the Lancaster region. Not anymore.
"We did until two or three years ago," publicity spokeswoman Wendy Marano explains.
Funding forced the nonprofit group to tighten its service area to Philadelphia and surrounding counties, she says.
That might change.
"With the new development in Lancaster County, it's something that our board might be looking at," Marano says.