With the alarming rise in the number and severity of animal cruelty cases, the Pennsylvania SPCA is launching an Animal Cruelty Hotline. It’s official launch is not until February 1 but phones are being answered even now and the calls are coming in.
Just a sampling of cruelty calls received by the Pennsylvania SPCA last weekend is chilling: A Labrador retriever mix scalded by cooking grease. A Pomeranian found starved to death in a doghouse, his two tiny canine companions clinging to life in frigid conditions. The emaciated body of another dog found in an apartment by a landlord after his owner skipped out on the rent.
And that was just in Philadelphia.
These calls represent only a small fraction of the cases and calls statewide and the group’s director hopes the addition of a statewide toll-free hotline (1-866-601-SPCA, or 1-866-601-7722) will make it easier for witnesses to get help and for humane agents to respond more quickly.
“There is an epidemic of cruelty in this state,” said Howard Nelson, executive director of the PSPCA. “We want to encourage people to report cruelty and make it easy and quick.”
Nelson said he believed it was the first 24/7 cruelty hotline in the nation to have operators handling the calls. He said trained staff members would assess the urgency of the calls and dispatch agents. If they request it, callers are guaranteed anonymity, he said.
“Sometimes people are reporting their neighbors and it’s awkward,” Nelson said.
For publicity, Nelson recruited Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and his wife, Jennifer. The couple, along with a boxer named Etana that was beaten and burned by a group of teenagers, appear in a public-service announcement urging people who witness abuse to call the hotline.
The media attention that followed when the Utleys volunteered to pay for Etana’s care helped shed light on the issue.
“It really woke people up to the fact that it was not a rare occurrence and that abuse comes in a lot of shapes and forms,” she said.
Nelson said he was concerned by the rising number and the severity of the abuse cases. The PSPCA responded to 6,000 calls in 2006, but that rose to 8,000 calls last year. Among the calls humane agents responded to last year was one involving the seizure of 216 badly neglected dogs from a kennel in Western Pennsylvania. Fifty of the diseased dogs had to be destroyed.
The PSPCA last year doubled its law enforcement staff to 14 agents and expects to spend $1.7 million this year responding to and prosecuting cruelty cases as well as caring for injured dogs, Nelson said. It is a nonprofit organization but it has the authority to enforce cruelty laws.
Nelson said the hotline would allow the PSPCA to maintain a database to keep track of repeat offenders and determine which areas have the most problems with abuse. (The Philadelphia Enquirer)
Etana, mentioned in the story, was one of the lucky ones. She had the Utleys as sponsors to bring on her story and she did recover and find a loving forever home although the abusers have never been apprehended to date. So many are not so lucky.
I’d love to see this excellent program picked up by more communities. Now if the legal system would just follow through with some serious prosecution and sentencing, people might actually might stop looking at animal cruelty laws as a joke if they realize they will have to pay for their crimes!