While many people assume all SPCA’s are related, the truth is that humane societies are usually independent of each other.
This is true of the Pennsylvania SPCA, which was founded almost a century and a half ago and is one of the oldest and largest in the country.
The SPCA does more than just care for abandoned animals—they also have officers who respond to situations of animal neglect and cruelty. They investigate dog fighting rings, intervene in cases of animal hoarding, and deal with abused animals. They are out there to give animals a voice.
We talked to Sgt. Nicole Wilson, Humane Law Enforcement Officer for the Pennsylvania SPCA, to find out what it’s like to join the department and fight for those without a voice.
THK: What do Humane Law Enforcement officers do?
Sgt. Nicole Wilson: Humane Law Enforcement Officers investigate criminal complaints of animal cruelty and prosecute or assist in the prosecution of these criminal cases. The process starts with our dispatch team receiving a call about an animal concern. These range from an individual’s concern that an animal doesn’t have shelter to severe cases of abuse. Our officers investigate these complaints based upon the priority level, which is based upon the severity of the issue and the age of the complaint. There is a wide range of the types of complaints to which officers respond.
Last month, 1% of investigations involved a death, maiming, or torture, 7% were abuse investigations, seven percent of cases involved unsanitary conditions, 63% involved a lack of shelter, water, or food, 12% involved a lack of veterinary care, 1% were hoarding cases, 1% were animal fighting, and 7% were abandonment concerns.
The length of an investigation varies greatly based upon the type of complaint. For example, it is rather obvious whether a dog has a shelter or not but a thorough investigation involving an animal that has been beaten or that involves animal fighting can take significantly longer.
THK: How common are cases of animal hoarding? Can you give us a little insight into these type of situations?
NW: Hoarding cases involve a great deal of challenges from both the number of animals usually involved and the severe conditions in which the animals are often found. The cases range from exclusively hoarding animals to the combination of object and animal hoarding. Although hoarding cases only accounted for 1.4 percent of our cases in the last quarter of 2015, the number of animals removed from these cases accounted for 41 percent of the total number of animals removed by our officers.
During removals, officers often struggle through foul living conditions including feces, severe flea infestations and dangerous structural issues. It is important to note that the fleas often stay on officers beyond the work day resulting in an officer’s animal(s) having to be on flea preventative all year round to prevent an infestation in the officer’s home. The cost of rehabbing these animals is often significantly higher due to the long term neglect and disease associated with animals from hoarding cases.