Animal Rights Crusaders Taking Philadelphia Pets?

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.  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.  So instead I received verification from Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  Then it gets interesting…

The local SPCA raided Wendy’s Willard’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 people’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 “shelter” in Philadelphia. From there the hounds were dispersed amongst other “shelters”.

When I contacted the SPCA, they claimed that other blog coverage (and this is the only other blog coverage I’ve found) is inaccurate.  I didn’t dive into exact raid details with their spokeswoman, but I’m curious about what exactly is inaccurate.  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.  (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.  Why would a shelter that has an “urgent appeal” out for adoption homes ignore offers of assistance from breed specialists?  So, I inquired about this rather odd development.  Again, it was confirmed that these other owners have been contacting the PSPCA, but to no avail.  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.  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?  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?  Yes, that’s right.  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.  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.  According to the spokeswoman, the organization has “police powers” when it comes to animals.  Great, so who granted these “police powers” to a group of private citizens?  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.  She believed the power came from the state, but she could not confirm it for me.  (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.  PSPCA is running amok claiming law enforcement authority, but with even less accountability than police forces.  That is disturbing.  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.  More importantly, the police are ultimately accountable to the taxpayers and citizens.  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.  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.  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.  (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.  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.  It would appear that neither was the case here.  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.  As an organization, they could be sued without having to overcome qualified immunity.  Perhaps more importantly, PSPCA doesn’t have the power to simply fleece the taxpayers if they lose.  As a private organization, they would have to eat the costs themselves.  (Of course, this does assume Pennsylvania & Philadelphia didn’t do something stupid and agree to pay expenses should PSPCA violate the law.  Let’s hope no bureaucrat was that stupid.)

So here’s hoping that Wendy Willard and the Tennessee owners lawyer up.  If PSPCA did overstep their bounds in this case, they deserve to be sued.  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.  A few expensive lawsuits should teach them there are more appropriate ways to handle these situations.

16 thoughts on “Animal Rights Crusaders Taking Philadelphia Pets?”

  1. Considering the probable value of some of those dogs, I’d be lawyering up and talkin’ major lawsuit against everybody and agency involved.

    1. I did try. I spoke with PSPCA directly, and they did not provide any of these arguments. When I asked about the situation as presented online, they did not challenge anything other than to initially make a blanket response that things “were wrong.” If you have a problem with their new PR director’s responses to the public and media, perhaps you should take that up with her.

      Even in light of this side of the argument, I still have concerns. If the owner really was throwing stones and acting belligerently, why weren’t actual law enforcement officers involved? The police powers assumed by PSPCA are still troubling. If it is true that the woman was not the owner of all of the dogs, then why is the rescue group refusing to talk to other concerned owners? PSPCA’s spokeswoman told me that the rescue group is the organization charged with controlling all information and future actions with the dogs. There are legitimate private property concerns with a lack of accountability.

      The PSPCA also admits in that article that they tried to keep this case quiet. Why? If everything was above board, why try to keep things secret?

      The post very clearly states that I was working with only one side for quite a few details. I also noted that PSPCA had plenty of opportunity to challenge specific issues, which they did not other than a broad sweeping statement with no evidence. The fact that they feel they don’t have to back anything up or respond to critics is troubling with the powers they have been granted. If there was misconduct, I hope that owners sue. If there wasn’t, then PSPCA has nothing to worry about.

  2. NOT TO MENTION MR. P BURNS, that that is an EX POST FACTO law which is ILLEGALL under the Constitution of the United States. You cannot regulate an act of commerce after the fact.

    Look it up, you no good liberal tard!

  3. Typical Philly Inq. article. Only one side to the story given and going out of the way to demonize the other side. Gun owners are quite familar with this pattern.

    Since I am a Bassett owner, I have some familarity with the breed. Bassett’s are so low slung and their ears are so long, that it takes five minutes for them to get caked in urine when they are in a pack with other dogs. When our dog comes back from doggie day care, his ears are a mess. This is probably the filth they are talking about.

    I’d be more likely to believe this story if there were a.) pictures and b.) an attempt to present both sides of the story. The PSPCA has a vested interest in defending this action because if it turns out to be unwarranted, then the public will turn against them.

    The fact that the government gave these police powers to a private entity is beyond outrageous but sadly typical of where we are as a society.

  4. What I want to know is whether the “12 animal limit” applies to tropical fish or ant farms.

  5. What seems to be missing from this story is any mention of due process. The government may not deprive a citizen of liberty or property without due process. There seems to be no mention of a hearing or trial in front a judge or jury. In many places, an animal may be taken by law enforcement if there is an accusation of cruelty, but the animal is held until there is a hearing–a finding of facts–where the accused can face their accuser and present their side of the matter. That seems to have been seriously short-circuited in this case, if the facts are as they have been presented.

  6. That’s my biggest concern, Laura. That’s what I was trying to understand when I called PSPCA. Unfortunately, they claim the power to handle the investigation, and the power to give away the dogs for adoption. In other words, you have a group with terrible incentives acting as police, judge, jury, and executioner.

    Sam, thanks for that comment. When I see descriptions of dirty animals, it always raises questions with me. I’ve seen plenty of animals that are dirty, but not to the point of being unhealthy. Pets get messy, it happens. Yes, there is filth to a point where animals are unhealthy. Those situations may call for action under animal cruelty laws. However, I have not been convinced by anything PSPCA has said so far that it crossed the line.

  7. I think this situation happens quite often. The thing is, the PSPCA, and probably every other SPCA in the country, is funded by local government, as well as by donations from the private sector, but they ARE on the city’s payroll. That gives them the “authority” to do what they did above, like it or not.

    But to call the PSPCA an “animal rights” group is not completely accurate. I don’t know of any SPCA that is animal rights. Animal rights means that animals shouldn’t be used or killed by humans for any reason. Animal welfare means that animals should be treated “humanely” but can still be used or killed for human benefit.

    The SPCA is animal control (which I guess could also be called animal welfare), but it is not animal rights.

  8. All our breed rescues despite what breed is involved, needed a wakeup call this represents. If we don’t get this nonsense stopped, breed rescues are deader than spayed and neutered animals are to reproductivity and genetic diversity in breeds. . Our general population needs a similar wake up call. Imho, this isn’t about animals. Instead, it’s about erosion and eradication of American’s constitutional rights. What kind of government invades homes at night usurping private property except to inflict and infect the population with terror? What kind of government (read about the recent Indiana case also) snatches animals because of a disputed income tax bill and redistributes them to animal radical groups who instantly spirit the animals far away–before the case is even adjudicated? What kind of government operates without due process? If we permit our animals to be seized without due process what’s next on the hit list–our spouses, our children our bank accounts, or our real estate? Isn’t it time to say–enough already–before we end up naked with everything we ever had of any value siezed by any radical group that thinks they can get away with whatever they want to steal? Don’t return any elected official to any office who in any way supports animal radical or who has set even one animal radical person in a single position of power whether local, state, or federal. The biggest change we could make to getting rid of animal radicals is to remember that every penny we spend is a powerful vote. It’s obvious we need to buy pets only from breeders but we can effect farm more change faster if we add a 2nd tactic. We need to boycott buying meat, poultry, and all forms of fresh and salt water fish from all multinational producers AND their outlets. Buy our dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and all edibles that come from fresh or sale water only from American local farmers and fishermen. We’d be far better fed and the screams of outrage from multinational producers would leave our politicians withdrawing their massive, covert support of animal radical groups that have ended up ruling our nation and destroying our constitutional rights.

  9. Ants and fish aren’t animals under the Animal Welfare Act.
    Mammals only, except not rats.

    “(g) The term “animal” means any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warmblooded animal, as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet; but such term excludes (1) birds, rats of the
    genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research, (2) horses not used for research purposes, and (3) other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for
    improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber. With respect to a dog, the term means all dogs including those used for hunting, security, or breeding purposes”

  10. You might want to take a look at Never Yet Melted .
    He has a series of posts on PSPCA; I haven’t read through them all, but there are questions of accountability–what is the PSCPA doing with the money, why won’t they give out figures on how many animals they euthanize, is profit playing a part in some of their actions?

  11. Breeders have been embattled for a long time All the media reports of puppy mills have fueled this and there have been quite a few abuses.

    However this is an abuse of authority and an appropiation of real property that can be valuable. The owners of the boarded animals have a major case

    However the devil is in the details which we do not have.
    The out of state Bassets may have been there for breeding or other reason and the may have been not kosher there. If so that would hurt any law suit.


  12. Laura, you might notice that I linked to and quoted from the site. However, I do feel the author is getting a little impassioned about the issue. Not that I haven’t been guilty of it sometimes, I did turn to the PSPCA for this post just to find some balance. As you can see, they didn’t provide much.

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