An Issue the City Can’t Afford to Neglect
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~Mahatma Ghandi.
I think Ghandi would agree the City of Harrisburg is in grave trouble.
For well over a year, our fair city has failed–miserably–to live up to its animal control responsibilities. The year got off to a bad start when, lacking a contract with the local shelter, City officials actually directed police to shoot, dump or adopt any stray dogs they found. From that rough start, the plight of stray, abused and neglected dogs in the city has only gotten worse as 2012 progressed.
Although the City did finally work out a contract with the Humane Society, numerous city dogs have been taken in by the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance (CPAA) and other area rescue organizations over the last year. Many are malnourished and carry physical and emotional scars consistent with dogfighting. And these are the lucky ones. They are getting a second chance at life.
But what of the others? The multiple litters of puppies we were told about at one address, stuffed in crates full of excrement and covered in bite wound; the two puppies stuck in a crate on a balcony in direct sunlight; a dead puppy partially wrapped in a trash bag lying in the street, covered with bite wounds and an apparent broken neck.
For months, CPAA volunteers and residents have been calling the City’s police and Animal Control Officer, Fred Lamke, with reports about possible dog fighting and dogs in distress due to abuse or neglect. Each and every one of those calls has generated no response. None. Forget the moral obligation the City’s officers have to do the right thing – this is their job. They are paid by the taxpayers to protect the public safety. And make no mistake about it, their failure to address animal cruelty complaints is most certainly a public safety issue. Plain and simple, dogs that are mistreated by humans are fearful of them, and when dogs are fearful, it’s not unusual for them to be aggressive. This puts the public at risk.
What some of us consider pets are viewed by too many people as money-makers, breeders, and fighters. There is absolutely no doubt dogfighting is taking place in this city. In fact, in 2010 Harrisburg City Council passed a resolution recognizing it as a problem. In conjunction with Resolution 27-2010, CPAA created the Anti-Dogfighting Task Force to gather tips about the illegal activity. Each and every one of those tips – usually one or two a month — is passed onto the City, yet again, there has been no public evidence that the City is responding to the information being provided. In many cases, the people who fight dogs aren’t otherwise good, law-abiding citizens; they tend to be involved in many other crimes, including theft, illegal gambling, drug dealing, gang activity and more. Again, this puts the public at risk.
Earlier this year, a website that compiles crime statistics rated Harrisburg the 20th most dangerous city in the country. With about 15 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, Harrisburg is five times more dangerous than Philadelphia, which was ranked the 52nd most dangerous city in the country. The prevalence of animal cruelty in our city is not a side effect of the high crime rate; it is a major contributing factor.
Aside from the public safety issues of animal neglect and abuse in the City of Harrisburg, there are also quality of life issues that should be acknowledged. Neglected and abused dogs may be the very dogs bark incessantly violating the City’s noise ordinance. They may smell. They may be destroying neighboring property such as fences. Not to mention the fact that dog fighting is a vicious, violent activity. Imagine the sound of hearing it next door. It is traumatic for City residents to know dogs are being fought, abused or neglected. It’s stressful to report these crimes and have their concerns ignored. Day after day, they see the suffering and hear the cries, but they are powerless to stop it because the ones with the power to help refuse to do so.
While we wait for the City to live up to its responsibilities, CPAA is taking action to educate the public about responsible dog ownership. We offer free spay/neuter surgeries to pit bulls and pit bull mixes, and we hold free vaccine clinics for Harrisburg City residents. We offer low-cost microchipping, advocate ID tags and licensing for dogs, and encourage regular vet visits. Finally, we do everything in our power to help any dog get that second chance that he or she deserves.
But we can’t do it alone. We can’t find dogfighters by ourselves and bring them to justice. We can’t crack down on illegal back yard breeding, and we can’t seize a dog living in horrible conditions and force the owner to take responsibility.
To the people of Harrisburg City, especially the mayor, police chief and animal control officer, please join us in our fight to make our city safer. The greatness of our city depends on you living up to your moral obligation not only to protect but to respect these animals. You can rest assured we will continue to speak out for those who have no voice.
Help Stop Dogfighting
To say nothing, to do nothing, stops nothing. ~Roni McCall, Founder, Through Their Eyes, The National Animal Abuse Registry
The Humane Society of the United States offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dogfighting. Tips can be made by calling 1-877-TIP-HSUS; your identity will be kept confidential. Reports also may be made to CPAA’s Anti-Dogfighting Task Force at 717-732-0611.
Look for these signs to identify potential dogfighting activity:
- An inordinate number of pit bulls being kept in one location, especially multiple dogs who are chained and seem unsocialized.
- Dogs with scars on their faces, front legs, and stifle area (hind end and thighs).
- Dogfighting “training” equipment such as treadmills used to build dogs’ endurance; “break sticks” used to pry apart the jaws of dogs locked in battle; and tires or “springpoles” (usually a large spring with rope attached to either end) hanging from tree limbs used to strengthen the dogs.
- Unusual foot traffic coming and going from a location at odd hours.
Zella Anderson is founder & director of the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance