by Paula Hernandez
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you suspected that someone was abusing an animal? Recently, a Facebook user raised concerns through social media, posting an account of her experience at a pet store in Mohegan Lake. She feared that one of the dogs was not being properly cared for and she used her phone to video what she saw. She wrote in her post that she had contacted the Westchester SPCA.
The online response to her actions was overwhelmingly positive. Over 200 people “Liked” the post and it was “Shared” almost 3,000 times in less than a week.
Chief Ken Ross of the Putnam County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or PCSPCA understands why a concerned citizen would take to social media to try to help. He also cautions that in some cases this can be dangerous for the animal in the long term. “There are procedures in place that are very important to follow in order to conduct an effective investigation.” If you share your concerns on a public forum it could affect the investigation or worse, be detrimental to the animal, warns Chief Ross. “First thing to do is call your local county SPCA. We conduct investigations the same as any police force. We have full backing of county agencies – the D.A. (District Attorney), (Putnam County) Sheriff, and police department(s).”
Chief Ross stresses that it takes time to build a case and the proper procedures must be followed. By going public, you run the risk of tainting the jury pool with a “pre-conceived notion of guilt”. Or worse, the accused could hide or destroy the animal or tamper with evidence if tipped off.
Until 2005, Putnam County had no SPCA. Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith invited Chief Ross, who at the time was working with the Westchester SPCA, to start up the PCSPCA. Since then the Putnam County SPCA provides the much needed services of enforcing the animal cruelty laws, providing humane education, and housing the abused animals seized from terrible situations. They’re an independent organization, having the necessary approval of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), but receive no funding from the ASPCA or any government agency. The Putnam County SPCA is a New York State law enforcement agency, given full “police powers” to enforce the laws of New York State, specifically those that pertain to animals. The PCSPCA has two full-time police staff, the Chief and a Detective, who are also father and son. It often surprises those who learn that the Chief and Detective are police officers. They conduct criminal investigations, make arrests, and work with all other law enforcement agencies. They respond to calls from residents of Putnam County as well as area police departments.
One of the biggest obstacles, admits Chief Ross, is the public perception that the PCSPCA is the Humane Society, a shelter, or dog catchers. They are not. But you can access a list of those on their website at www.spcaputnam.org.
The Putnam County SPCA is a 501(c)(3) charity that relies solely on donations from supporters who care about animals and how they are treated. Chief Ross admits that it’s challenging to run what is essentially a specialized police force like a charity. In addition to being Chief, he also manages volunteers, fundraising efforts, investigations, public relations, humane education for schools and community groups, and budget. Putnam County and the Town of Carmel both contribute annually, but together their donations make up less than $10,000. The rest of the PCSPCA budget comes from other sources such as generous citizens, local businesses, and local charities such as the Patterson Rotary Club. Their aging police car was donated a few years ago and they are trying to raise enough funds for upkeep until they can find a new one.
Chief Ross solemnly sighed when asked why no veterinarians in Putnam County have offered their services. He has to transport any animal requiring medical services or necropsy (animal autopsy) to Mount Vernon where the only veterinarian he could find to donate medical services is located.
Despite all of the challenges, Chief Ross is grateful for the backing of all the county agencies, which is proof of the positive impact the PCSPCA have made in the county, which includes saving local police forces both money and manpower by conducting independent PCSPCA investigations.
The Putnam County SPCA may do more important work than we realize. While investigating claims of animal cruelty, they often find other serious crimes. The link between animal cruelty and child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence, and human suffering are well documented. These crimes may go undetected if not for an animal cruelty investigation. By discovering animal cruelty cases, criminals are caught early and the link to crimes against humans may then be broken.
The PCSPCA also meets monthly with neighboring county SPCA’s to discuss issues and share information. In the past year Chief Ross has worked with D.A.s and local politicians to write legislation specific to Putnam County, including a registry of convicted animal abusers. He hopes to have it passed into law in early 2016 and feels it will greatly benefit the general public.
Now that the temperature is dipping below freezing and winter storms are inevitable, Chief Ross offers some general tips that dictate whether a dog can be left outside:
- The dog must be breed appropriate. A short-haired dog will get cold more easily. It also includes older dogs or dogs with medical conditions such as arthritis.
- The dog must have access to water. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and ice does not constitute water, “which results in arrest,” adds Chief Ross.
- There must be a dog house which is high enough for the dog to stand up in, wide enough to turn around in, long enough to make posturing moves such as stretching, free from debris, easily cleaned, and insulated and waterproof.
To come back to the question, “How would you handle the situation if you suspected that someone was abusing an animal?”, Chief Ross simplifies the answer. “You can’t stop common sense from dictating how you handle it”. Emotions run high when it comes to animals and he is well aware of how important it is to ensure their needs are taken care of.
HVNN.com contacted the Westchester SPCA for an update on the investigation in the case of the puppy store in Mohegan Lake. We have not yet heard back. Perhaps that is best for the investigation.