Animal advocates working for stricter anti-cruelty laws

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The many public service announcements on television featuring the sad faces of abused and neglected animals that bring people to tears are heartbreaking and hard to miss.

In an effort to end animal abuse, a newly formed group, Amend Pa. Humane Enforcement (APHE), has begun to hold workshops throughout Pennsylvania in order to educate the public on why amendments are needed to the way current animal anti-cruelty laws are enforced. 

The proposed amendments would turn anti-cruelty laws into first-class laws in the state.

Locally, a workshop will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, at the Punxsutawney Elks Club BPOE. The workshop is being sponsored by Elyse and Gene Roberts, who work with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

"The (animal) humane laws in Pennsylvania are antiquated, and there needs to be a sustainable system that actually works," Elyse Roberts said.

"I feel the changes being asked for by APHE will alleviate the pressure on the non-profit animal shelters and rescue organizations and provide a structure that will benefit both the animals in need and help maintain a unified system," she said.

Although law officers have the ability to enforce the anti-cruelty law, the enforcement has primarily fallen on non-profit animal shelters. 
While in theory such an arrangement seems like a good idea, in practice, there are many negative consequences that are a direct result of such an arrangement.

Regina Martin, retired Pittsburgh police officer and former Humane Society police officer, is one of the co-founders spearheading the group. 

 "First, the current system lacks both a uniform standard of enforcement and accountability," Martin said. "Second, the current arrangement places an undue financial burden on animal shelters."

Paula Sylvis, a Punxsy resident, who is a member of Clarion Pet Adoption Wellness Society (PAWS), said one of the difficulties in enforcing animal cruelty laws is there is no humane officer in the area.

"If we see an abuse or neglect situation, there's no one to call," Sylvis said. "I think this organization has come up with a good solution to the problem."

Sylivs said that training humane officers under the state police, and having shelters that the police can take the animals to will be a real plus.

"Right now, police officers’ hands are tied; there are no shelters for them to take abused animals to," Sylvis said, adding that there aren't any public shelters in the area either.

"Many shelters won't take animals because most are filled to capacity," Sylvis said. "We don't have animal cops in a rural area like you see on Animal Planet."

Faith Bjalobok,PhD., a professor from Duquesne University and Fellow of Oxford Centre Animal Ethics, who is also a co-founder of the group, said that in reality, the anti-cruelty law is at best a second-class law and in many cases a 'toothless tiger.'

 "The real victims of the inadequacy of enforcement and prosecution are, of course, the animals themselves and the non-profit shelters who serve them," Bjalobok said.

 APHE is a diverse group of private individuals, professional community leaders, humane officers, private rescue shelters and private citizens who focus on the health and welfare of the non-human animals that reside within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

 Sylvis said the group is dedicated to amending the laws specifically as they relate to the enforcement of animal anti-cruelty and the hiring and training of humane officers under a state agency, so that the proposed enforcement will become uniform state-wide. 
A central database will be created so that all complaints of animal abuse and neglect will be tracked to ensure accountability.

 The group is also proposing the creation of six state-run shelters for seized and stray animals, and a one-cent sales tax on all animal-related food and products to fund the new system.

 For more information regarding the workshop call Roberts at 952-6683.