Rally in Brookville raises awareness of animal cruelty in Jefferson County

BROOKVILLE — When members of the Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals in Coolspring found Angel, a terrier mix, she was "very, very bony, just a walking little skeleton," said Margo Stefanic, the founder and president of the organization.

Stefanic said the dog was "very unhealthy" and seriously malnourished, a description that was backed up by a veterinarian after she was discovered. Angel had been left restrained in the backyard of her former owner's residence in Rose Township, where she had not been given water or food.

"We were very saddened," Stefanic said. "We were very saddened to know that somebody could look away and just leave a little animal like that secured in the backyard, unable to get to any food, any water, any anything."

The Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals nursed Angel back to health and, last Saturday, brought her outside for a rally against animal cruelty in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals is a state-certified, non-profit organization which has a mission to provide for the well-being of animals by providing shelter, food and veterinary care for every animal that comes to them.

"We as a group of people are very, very active in animal rights," Stefanic said. "We care very much about the well-being of all animals, protecting them and caring for them since they can't speak for themselves."

The reason for the rally that day, Stefanic said, was Angel.

"She's created quite a stir amongst the animal lovers in this area ... We really want to bring her out into public to let people know that this is going on right in their backyard, and it's unacceptable," Stefanic said.

She added. "We want people to know Angel is a survivor."

The purpose of the rally was mainly to raise awareness of animal cruelty in the area and to drum up support for the Willow Run Sanctuary for Animal and its efforts to prevent it, whether by aiding animals who are victims or by appealing to state and local governments to impose harsher penalties on those who commit it.

"We're going to reach out and form an organization of people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is and address the proper state officials to perhaps see about getting current laws amended, new ones started, maybe old ones ousted or whatever the case may be," Stefanic said.

Stefanic said that some of the current inadequacies in the law, as she sees them, are penalties that are too soft. She said they could go further by imposing tougher fines or perhaps having perpetrators spend a night or two in jail.

However, she emphasized the importance of not blaming local public officials for the county's response to animal cruelty situations.

"They're only limited to what the law says, so you can't have animosity against ... a judge, or a state trooper, or the police, whether that's borough police or whomever," Stefanic says. "If what Angel's perpetrator ultimately receives is a misdemeanor, it's not their fault. You have to go to the higher-ups."

Stefanic said that the campaign started in Angel's name was not intended or expected to change any laws and that the demonstration was to be more of an educational experience for members of the local community. However, she indicated that they would be addressing the state legislature about the issue in the near future.

Stefanic said that she doesn't believe that Jefferson County has any particular prejudice making its residents unaware of incidents of animal cruelty, but rather that lack of awareness of such acts is more likely widespread across counties and states. She hoped that the rally and the rest of the campaign would get the process of awareness started for the local area.

"We don't have all the answers, and we're not know-it-alls ... but we know right from wrong for the most part; your common sense tells you," Stefanic said. "We would like to reach out to people."

She said she hoped the campaign would let people know who to call if they witness or suspect animal abuse and possibly allow the Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals to start up other projects. Stefanic mentioned a desire to perhaps start a community pet food bank to help people who can't care for their animals anymore.

Stefanic said that she considers animal abuse as existing on a broad spectrum, with some of the better-known incidents involving physical abuse and malnourishment sitting at the top and lower-level acts occupying the bottom.

"Abuse can come right down to the fact that maybe your neighbor has their dog tied our 24/7," Stefanic said. "We've seen all too many times the pounded mud with no grass around a post and a doghouse. I think that, to a lesser degree, is definable to me as an abuse situation. Maybe other people would disagree with that, but, of course, it can go from something as little as that to as big as malnourishment."

The campaign, Stefanic said, can address only the situations brought to its attention, but that lower-level abuses like the one described would "be enough for us to wake up and leave our coffee mug at the table and go do something about if if we could."

Stefanic said that people should care about animal abuse because it reflects upon the community in which it occurs.

"People should care about this issue because it's the integrity of a specific geographic location," Stefanic said.

She added, "It has to do with the mental intelligence of a human being to treat animals correctly. If you care about the community in which you live ... you'll care about the way you're taking care of your animals."

Stefanic said that the response so far to the campaign has been a positive one.

"We can't really speak for the people who might be opposed to what we're doing because they haven't come forward ... For the most part, people are on board with this, and people would like to see better treatment of animals."

Stefanic said that if anyone feels strongly about animal cruelty and wishes to help, they can do so by keeping the Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals aware of any potentially abusive situations so that steps can be taken to help the animal or animals involved.

Documentation from the sanctuary lists the following as signs of animal cruelty: poor body condition and noticeable trauma, lack of food/water, lack of shelter, lack of sanitation, abandonment, the animal being tied or caged, there are any chains or padlocks around or embedded into the animal's neck, the animal shows evidence of being trained for fight or having been used for such, the animal's behavior is abnormal, there are too many animals living on one property and an owner is seen being overtly violent against the animal.

The sanctuary also recommends taking the following four steps to address a witnessed act of animal cruelty: be prepared to reach out to local authorities and inform them of the situation, follow up with law enforcement afterward, document the details as best as can be done and be prepared to testify.

The Willow Run Sanctuary for Animals can be reached via the following methods: by phone at (814) 849-7466, by email at willowrunsanctuary@yahoo.com or on its Facebook page.

Stefanic said concerned residents can also report suspected animal abuse directly to the police.