This is a very troubling account of a Philadelphia animal rights group swiping pets and refusing to work with breed experts who want to adopt them.Â In a very quick search, I didn’t find any media accounts to back it up, but I’m sure that’s because on its face, a story about a woman with a few too many dogs doesn’t sound that interesting.Â So instead I received verification from Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.Â Then it gets interesting…
The local SPCA raided Wendyâ€™s Willardâ€™s kennel where she keeps her Murder Hollow Bassets on Monday night. They arrived with seven trucks and two police cars & informed her that one of her neighbours had complained about noise.Neither the neighbour nor the SPCA had previously complained to her, yet she has been there for 22 years.
As it turns out, Philadelphia County had recently passed an ordinance where no more than 12 animals may be kept on any property. The Murder Hollow kennels contained 23 bassets, less than the requirement to obtain a (US) Department of Agriculture kennel licence, but the kennel is just inside the city limits.
Under this law, the local SPCA have managed to acquire the power to seize peopleâ€™s dogs without warning, by force and by night, and then to take them away to an unknown destination without any accountability.
The police took 12 hounds and delivered them to an SPCA animal rescue â€œshelterâ€ in Philadelphia. From there the hounds were dispersed amongst other â€œsheltersâ€.
When I contacted the SPCA, they claimed that other blog coverage (and this is the only other blog coverage I’ve found) is inaccurate.Â I didn’t dive into exact raid details with their spokeswoman, but I’m curious about what exactly is inaccurate.Â She did not challenge or attempt to correct my understanding that the dogs were seized in response to a relatively new Philadelphia ordinance without warning or an effort to cooperate with the owner.Â (A quick search for information on this seems to verify that there was little or no media coverage of this change, prompting reasonable concerns that a full on raid may not have been the best way to address a concern of too many dogs.)
According to the blog post, basset owners from around the area have stepped up to care for the dogs, but have so far been refused.Â Why would a shelter that has an “urgent appeal” out for adoption homes ignore offers of assistance from breed specialists?Â So, I inquired about this rather odd development.Â Again, it was confirmed that these other owners have been contacting the PSPCA, but to no avail.Â The PSPCA claims that they have already sent the dogs out to a rescue shelter, and the operators of the rescue shelter maintain full discretion over who may see or adopt the dogs.
At this point, I’m more than a curious writer, but a concerned citizen.Â Why can a private organization come on to your property to enforce an ordinance, take your property, and then not be held accountable for the property?Â How can a rescue organization hold full determination over adoption rights for pets when even PSPCA admits they have not fully investigated the situation and alleged violations?
Oh, did I forget to mention that the PSPCA spokeswoman said they were still investigating the situation?Â Yes, that’s right.Â They have not come to any conclusions about the alleged violations, yet they have already taken a woman’s dogs and given them to another group to give away to other owners.Â Meanwhile, when eligible and expert owners from the woman’s breeding community come forward, they have been shut out, and neither PSPCA nor the unnamed rescue group are held to account in responding to their concerns.
I followed up on this and asked PSPCA exactly who was leading the investigation, the organization or the local police.Â According to the spokeswoman, the organization has “police powers” when it comes to animals.Â Great, so who granted these “police powers” to a group of private citizens?Â The very question seemed to throw her off, so I admitted that I was relatively new to Pennsylvania and not familiar with all of the state and local laws, but I would like to know what authority grants PSPCA the authority to go and take people’s property and launch supposedly criminal investigations.Â She believed the power came from the state, but she could not confirm it for me.Â (Turns out they have limited powers from the state, but an article about the abrupt and curious resignation of the Executive Director indicates they do have authority from the city to enforce local animal ordinances at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers.)
So here we are with a situation where a woman’s pets are taken from her home by a private organization with some level of authority granted by the state and city, but no accountability in returning the animals or answering to public questions about the status of the “evidence” to the woman’s alleged crime of keeping excess dogs on her property.Â PSPCA is running amok claiming law enforcement authority, but with even less accountability than police forces.Â That is disturbing.Â The police don’t have the power to give away evidence of a crime before an investigation in complete, much less before any judgment against a woman is rendered.Â More importantly, the police are ultimately accountable to the taxpayers and citizens.Â PSPCA, in refusing to account for the animals and giving them away, is behaving as though they don’t have to be accountable to citizens while claiming power from the state to take your property.
As the first blog mentions, there are also concerns that hounds on loan from another pack were seized and the owners have been trying to find out what has happened to their dogs to no avail.Â I did inquire about this, and again was told that it’s up to the rescue shelter as to whether they want to work with the concerned community.Â At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether or not the owners will ever receive their dogs back, and in what condition the dogs will be in if returned.Â (The first blog post opines that there are concerns the dogs may be neutered, a concern considering the value of well-bred dogs for further breeding.)
If the dogs were indeed seized under PSPCA’s limited state authority, there are concerns about their claims to justify keeping the dogs.Â According to the section regarding PSPCA’s power to search with a warrant, the animals must be neglected or starving in order for them to be taken into care.Â It would appear that neither was the case here.Â I need to find the city ordinances to see their powers on the local level, and whether they have the power to seize property under the new ordinance.
In discussing this case based on the quick and dirty facts, especially the refusal of PSPCA to give the dogs to a rescue shelter that refuses to be accountable, Sebastian pointed out that PSPCA, with the powers they do have from the state and city, could be subject to lawsuits in federal court.Â As an organization, they could be sued without having to overcome qualified immunity.Â Perhaps more importantly, PSPCA doesn’t have the power to simply fleece the taxpayers if they lose.Â As a private organization, they would have to eat the costs themselves.Â (Of course, this does assume Pennsylvania & Philadelphia didn’t do something stupid and agree to pay expenses should PSPCA violate the law.Â Let’s hope no bureaucrat was that stupid.)
So here’s hoping that Wendy Willard and the Tennessee owners lawyer up.Â If PSPCA did overstep their bounds in this case, they deserve to be sued.Â While I in no way take the side of true abusers of animals, no private organization should be able to get away with unaccountable police powers.Â A few expensive lawsuits should teach them there are more appropriate ways to handle these situations.