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More Bite Than Bark Needed in Laws, Humane Officer Says


July 31, 2005 - AVELLA, PENNSYLVANIA - If Tina Ealy had her way, penalties for animal abuse would be a lot tougher. "The punishment should fit the crime, but that's not how it is right now," said Ealy, a state certified police officer for the Washington Area Humane Society.

"Some of the cases we investigate are awful, very heartbreaking and inexcusable. Yet our hands are tied as to how far these offenders can be prosecuted. The courts (district magisterial judges and county judges) do all they can but they also are limited because of what we feel are inadequate laws."

Ealy, of Avella, would like to see a stronger lobby effort in Harrisburg by animal rights activists.

"The current laws simply aren't strict enough and the penalties are not severe enough," she said. "We have to get the Legislature to come up with something much stronger in both areas."

There have been some efforts in that direction but legislation like HB 1003 introduced by state Rep. Frank LaGrotta, of Ellwood City, in March has not been acted upon.

Until stiffer laws are enacted, Ealy, a Humane Society police officer since March, and Susanne Lewis, senior full-time police officer with the Washington Area group, will remain committed to doing all they can to fight violence against animals. And abuse is widespread, Ealy said.

"We have found dogs nearly starved to death, severely beaten, abandoned along the interstate highways and tied to trees in the woods," she said. "It's very difficult to comprehend how anyone could do this to an animal, a creature that is virtually defenseless."

One case that is particularly disturbing to Ealy and others at the Washington Area Humane Society involved a mixed breed male named Bear.

"He's an adult dog, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and we received a complaint from a neighbor about his condition," Ealy recalled. "When we found him, Bear was tied with a chain that weighed over five pounds around his neck. It was one of those chains you find in a garage and it was cutting into his skin. In addition, his fur had grown all the way to the ground and was covering his face so much that it was obscuring his vision. It's one of the worst cases of animal cruelty we've ever seen. Bear didn't even look like a dog when we took him away."

Pet Bath House, of Long Branch, offered its services free of charge to cut Bear's 13 pounds of solid masses of matted hair, bathe him and trim his nails.

"We didn't recognize him when they were through grooming him," Ealy said. "With the chain and the fur gone, he weighed 18 pounds less. His fur is so smooth and he's such a friendly guy -- very lovable, gentle and calm. He would make the perfect companion for almost anyone."

Lewis, meanwhile, lists other troubling cases of animal abuse on the humane society's Web site. They include:

* * Tazzy, a Dalmation mix, who was neglected and chained to a doghouse. The dirty, rusty chain became embedded in his neck, causing large, deep sores.

** Zeus, a Shar-Pei mix, who was tied to a guide rail on the interstate with a note that read, "Take Me. I'm Stupid." Zeus was malnourished, neglected and a had a serious case of hereditary mange. He underwent medical care for several months and has now become a loving and affectionate animal.

** Buddy, a gentle beagle, who was found tied to the shelter's front door and had a broken back and leg. The injury was at least 2 weeks old and surgery was required.

** Kit-Kat, a young, long-haired stray black cat, who had a gangrenous foot that had to be amputated.

"What kind of people would do this to an animal?" Ealy asked. "They've all recovered, but why did they have to suffer this indignity in the first place?"

The humane society police officers investigated 190 abuse complaints and filed 24 citations with district magisterial judges in the first four months of this year. In addition, 92 animals (50 cats and 42 dogs/puppies) were taken into protective custody by the humane society in Eighty Four.

Lewis and Ealy encourage anyone who suspects animal abuse or cruelty or finds an abandoned animal to call the humane society at 724-222-7387. They also can call 911 or local authorities, who will forward the information to the humane society. Names are kept confidential, Ealy said, and all abuse complaints are investigated.

"We do ask that the caller leave his or her phone number in case we need more information," Ealy said.

Abandonment cases are a little easier to pursue in terms of rescuing the animal, Ealy said.

"Once they've been left somewhere on their own, we can take them immediately," she explained. "We cannot arrest anyone, but we do have the authority to post a notice on your door or your property informing you that we are investigating a complaint against you. We also can file charges with the magistrate and we can take the animals away from you."

Ealy said those who are charged with animal cruelty generally plead not guilty and "then it's up to us to prove our case against them."

Although there have been some jail terms handed out against those found guilty of animal violence, most of the penalties are nominal fines, Ealy said.

"That's a small price to pay for what you've done to an innocent animal," she said. "Physical injuries will heal over time, but there's also the emotional trauma involved. Some dogs and cats are very fearful of humans after they've been through such an experience. They fear the very hands that are meant to calm them and love them, and that's very sad."

Ealy admits it's easy to get attached to the animals she investigates.

"It's our job to rescue these animals who are victims of such disgraceful acts of violence, abuse and neglect," she said. "I understand that, but it's difficult not to have feelings. Those who commit these acts obviously are void of such feelings. You can't have feelings if you don't have a heart."

Washington Area Humane Society, Pennsylvania