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Friday, February 22, 2008

Reports of animal abuse can go astray

Calls about dog abuse are common in Franklin County, according to representatives of local animal shelters.

Too often, however, the calls are made to the wrong agencies.

When it comes to reporting animal cruelty, particularly related to dogs, people are often confused about what to do. So they call police or the state dog warden. Some people call on government officials, like a woman in Greencastle who went to the town's council on Feb. 4 with her concerns about a dog in her neighborhood.

In Pennsylvania there are certain agencies designated to handle certain calls.

The humane societies or animal shelters work to prevent the cruelty to animals. They also promote the humane treatment for all animals through education and enforcement of state cruelty laws.

In Franklin County, the Antietam Humane Society covers the southern part of the county, while the northern part is covered by the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter.

Calls about the abuse of dogs and other animals should be made to the AHS or CVAS. And that's a message made clear by Dog Warden Georgia Martin, who reports more than 18,000 dog licenses being issued in 2007.

The outgoing message on her answering machine notes that animal cruelty, dog neglect or cat complaints should go to the humane society; barking complaints to the local township or borough; and wild animal complaints to the state game commission.

Complaint in Greencastle

The issue of animal neglect emerged recently

during a Greencastle Borough Council meeting. Isle-Marie Bramson of 305 Leitersburg St. called on council to help a beagle that lived near her home. She said the dog's owner often leaves the dog outside in cold weather. When a council member asked if she had contacted the humane society, she said she had and that nothing had been done.

"One thing that bothers me about Greencastle is the fact that no one seems to be concerned about the welfare of an animal," Bramson said in a prepared statement. "Neither the police nor the animal welfare persons are implementing the few existing laws regarding animals. In any case, the present rules are not enforced partly because they are too vague."

The owner of the dog in question, whose name was not mentioned by Bramson, told Public Opinion that police and other agencies had made several visits to his home and they found nothing wrong: "She's been told to mind her own d

Chief John Phillippy of the Greencastle Police Department confirmed the owner's remarks. He said Wednesday that his officers have made several visits to the owner's home, as has Georgia Martin, the state dog law enforcement officer.

They found no violations, he said.

"You may agree or disagree with having a dog outside," Phillippy said. "But the owner is not in violation. The state code says the dog should have food, water and shelter, and the dog has that."

Candy Clopper, executive director of the Antietam Humane Society, agreed: "I have been there many, many times and the complaints were totally unfounded. The owner is not in violation of animal cruelty laws."

According to Clopper, Bramson also said the beagle was chained. Yet, when Clopper visited the dog, he was not chained.

"The owner said he was only chained when cleaning the kennel," she said. "We all would like to see dogs snuggled inside, but there is no law requiring that."

Clopper said the beagle is actually better off than most other dogs that are kept outside.

Different laws, different states

"As long as they fall within the laws of Pennsylvania, there's nothing wrong," said Jennifer Vanderau, director of communications for Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter.

"Being an animal lover, I agree it's sad to see the dogs outside," she said. "However, the agencies in question are bound by the laws of Pennsylvania."

Vanderau explained that people sometimes watch the television channel Animal Planet and see things in Texas or New York and wonder why agencies won't address certain complaints.

They don't understand that different states have different laws, she said.

Concerned about the state law on the issue, Bramson is planning a trip to Harrisburg to meet with state legislators and see what can be done about current law.

She agreed that the beagle's owner is not in violation. However, she believes the dog is still suffering, and the way to address it is by changing the current law: "The laws have to be changed and made more precise."

According to Bramson, chaining is not good for a dog. It's a problem because it can cause dogs to become vicious, she said.

Dog warden

People have their own ideas, but agencies have to go by the law, said Martin, who worked as a humane society police officer from 1991 to 1998.

Since then, she has worked as a state dog warden. In that capacity, she tries to educate the public about her job and the treatment of animals, she said.

In addition to filing citations, she handles complaints about dogs running at large. If someone is bitten, she takes care of it by placing the animal in quarantine. She informs the victim of his or her rights and lets the dog owner know about their responsibilities.

Martin also checks for license and rabies vaccinations of dogs older than 3 months. She also picks up strays, averaging one a week.

"Sixty percent of the complaints are about neighbors' dogs running loose," she said, noting she averages 900 cases a year.

Beyond those duties, Martin inspects 45 kennels, twice a year, throughout the county.

"Our agency does not handle animal cruelty," she said. "We don't have the power to enforce cruelty laws. When in the field, if I see any cruelty issues, I address it with the dog owner and turn it over to a humane society police officer."

The state is currently talking about empowering dog wardens to enforce cruelty laws, she said.

'Dogs Deserve Better'

Bramson is a volunteer for Dogs Deserve Better, a nonprofit group that works to free dogs that are chained. Its goal is to protect the dogs and bring them into homes, according to the group's Web site.

Bobbie McIntyre, a DDB representative, said she will do what she can to save abused dogs: "If you see what some of the dogs look like when they're brought to us, you'll understand the severity of the situation."

Some of the dogs she has rescued were nearly crippled by the chains. Their legs were atrophied and the collars had grown into their necks, she said. Beside those issues, the chains breeds severe aggression in a dog, she said.

When she learns of a chained dog, she writes a letter to the owner and provides literature on why the dog should not be chained. McIntyre, who lives in Greencastle, said she's not talking about the use of a leash when a dog is taking a walk. Her concern is for the "perpetual chained dogs" that are chained for their entire lives.

In addition to educating the dog owners, McIntyre and DDB offer free fencing that they install. They also offer to housebreak a dog if necessary and will pay for a trainer. If the owner surrenders the dog, she will gladly take it in, she said.

Although many governments have passed laws prohibiting this, she said, Pennsylvania is the hardest to bring about this change. So far, McIntyre said she has talked to local, county and state representatives about the issue.

She wants to lobby until the laws are changed. In the mean time, she plans to continue to write letters to owners of chained dogs.


Roscoe Barnes III can be reached at 262-4762 or

Resources on animal treatment

Antietam Humane Society: 762-9091,

Dog Law Enforcement Officer of Franklin County: 762-9794

Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter: 263-5791,

The Large Animal Protection Society:

Dogs Deserve Better:

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