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Just Another Piece of Garbage? I Don't Think So.
Just Another Piece of
Every week at Dogs Deserve Better we receive pictures of chained dogs that are obviously just another piece of trash, left and forgotten, in the caretaker's yard. The dog sits, day after day and year after year, amidst old junk cars, broken toys, rusted tools, and nameless and sundry other used up and broken paraphenalia, becoming too sad to even bark or make a fuss anymore.
I believe a good portion of the blame for the pervasiveness of this attitude rests upon the shoulders of this state's law enforcement agencies and judicial system. Three recent Pennsylvania cases not only support this argument, but were, in fact, what has led me to this conclusion.
Contrary to what many of us may think, Pennsylvania DOES in fact have anti-cruelty laws in place. They state: A person commits a summary offense if he wantonly or cruelly ill-treats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal's body heat and keep it dry. A person convicted of a summary offense should pay a fine of not less than $ 50 nor more than $ 750 or to imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both.
So why does Pennsylvania have so many cases of dead and dying dogs, oftentimes abandoned on the end of a chain or locked in a shed where they remain until death?
The problem seems to lie in the actual ENFORCEMENT of these laws. More often than not they are simply not enforced. The police feel it is not their job to enforce them, and the humane officers, few that there are, are both overwhelmed and beaten down by a judicial system that all too frequently sides with the abusers. They become lackadaisical about enforcement because they know whatever work they put into building a case, the judge may very well throw it out and let the abuser walk. There is no reward for their efforts on behalf of the animal, only loss after loss in the courtroom, leading to an eventual paralysis of both heart and mind.
Recently in Centre County, PA, Dogs Deserve Better volunteers twice tried to get a humane officer to go look at chained dogs to ascertain if laws were being broken. They were told both times that the officer had more than 30 counties to oversee, and there was no way she could get there anytime in the near future.What happens to a dog who is near death in these counties without adequate humane enforcement and police who feel it's not their job?I think we all know the answer to that. And I think it's happening daily, with no one held accountable for yet another death of another helpless companion.
The attitude that dogs in Pennsylvania are JUST PROPERTY, and can be treated as such, is archaic and in need of some serious overhaul.In a sad nod to the effects of this 'just property' notion, and in what may horrifyingly become a legal trend, is convicting animal abusers of 'scattering rubbish'instead of the actual crime of cruelty to animals.
Scattering rubbish, a dead dog? With insane verdicts such as these appearing in our state newspapers and other media, the court system and law enforcement agencies are putting forth and reinforcing the notion that dogs are just another piece of garbage; that it's ok to kill a dog as long as you dispose of it properly.This lends credence to the already prevalent notion amongst Pennsylvania's animal abusers that dogs are not living breathing creatures deserving of our respect and just treatment according to the law, but merely chattel, refuse, something worthless and of no value. That you can dispose of one and get another with no consequences and no thought.
On January 8, 2008 in Stroudsburg, PA, Arnold Wheeler was acquitted of animal cruelty charges in the 2006 shootings of three of his dogs. Wheeler use a .22-caliber rifle to shoot a 2 year old male dog 4 times, an 8-month-old female dog 3 times, and another female with puppies 1 time, and then dumped their bodies off along the road. For these crimes he walked, but was instead convicted of scattering rubbish for dumping the dog's bodies.He was ordered to pay a $200 fine and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Then on January 24th, 2008, Cheryl Magnotta of Smethport, PA was sentenced for 6 counts of animal cruelty, after pleading guilty to abandoning 21 Great Danes and leaving them to die of starvation on her property. She was initially charged with 44 counts of 'scattering rubbish'and 21 counts of animal cruelty, but she pled out of all 44 counts of rubbish charges and all but 6 of the animal cruelty charges. She received time served and probation.
On September 11, 2006,I helped a dog left to die on the end of a chain in a yard, a useless 'piece of refuse' who could no longer stand or even bark.Despite video and photo evidence of cruelty, as well as eye-witness and vet testimony, no charges were ever filed by either the police or the humane officer against the dog's caretakers. Private criminal charges filed by myself and Dogs Deserve Better remain 'in limbo',probably in a 'let's avoid this' stack of charges on the DA's desk. Instead, I was arrested for 'stealing property', and refusing to give it back when it was demanded of me. I was convicted and will be sentenced on February 22th...for standing up for 'just another piece of Pennsylvania garbage'.
Maybe, and that's a big maybe in East Freedom, Pennsylvania, if Doogie had died that day and been dumped along the road by the Arnolds, they too would have been convicted of 'scattering rubbish'. We will never know, because this one time someone stepped in and picked up the trash before it was all the way dead. With my conviction,the message being sent once again to the Pennsylvania public is that it's ok to kill your dog, because it's just another piece of junk laying in your yard; treat it as you see fit.
Just make sure you dispose of it properly when you're done.
Tammy S. Grimes, founder, Dogs Deserve Better