As a certified veterinary technician, animal lover and lifetime resident of the peaceful community of Lancaster county, my heart is heavy that Pennsylvania and our county has been thrust into the spotlight for a reason we are not very proud of. We have been dubbed the “puppy mill capital of the country,” and it saddens me that we have been unsuccessful in exacting any kind of change or in educating our lawmakers.
However, where we as an animal-loving society have failed, a Boston terrier puppy has succeeded. In a matter of four months, this puppy, aptly named Libre (Spanish for “freedom”), has captured the attention of the Lancaster county district attorney’s office, caused the executive director of the Lancaster county SPCA to have her authority of a humane police officer revoked and has motivated state legislators to pursue “sweeping” change in the state’s cruelty laws.
In the quiet community of Quarryville Pennsylvania, a produce truck driver named Dextin Orme took notice of a small puppy caged outdoors on an Amish farm. Having made several trips to this farm over a two-month period, he continued to note the puppy’s worsening condition and saw the situation growing grimmer. Orme happens to be an animal lover and a volunteer with the SPCA and attempted to elicit help from the Lancaster County SPCA and received no assistance. He approached the breeder on July 4th and convinced him to relinquish the puppy to him. Orme turned the puppy over to a former humane officer who rushed the puppy to an emergency veterinarian in Lancaster and contacted Speranza Animal Rescue.
The puppy’s condition was listed as critical and veterinarians felt only a miracle could save him. On initial evaluation, veterinarians noted severe emaciation, dehydration, bilateral deep corneal ulcers, head to toe skin infection due to demodectic mange, blood, pus and maggots oozing from multiple skin wounds, muscle atrophy so severe he could only stand for a few moments at a time, shallow breathing, and dropping in and out of consciousness. Despite his grave circumstance, Janine Guido, director of Speranza Animal Rescue, refused to give permission to euthanize. Instead they transported him to Dillsburg Veterinary Hospital where he received round-the-clock care, even going home with a veterinarian nights and weekends so he was never without attention.
News of this adorable puppy’s story spread quickly, and he soon won the hearts of people across the country. Questions also started to arise as to why no support was ever offered by the SPCA. Lancaster Online reports that, according to Susan Martin, director of Lancaster county SPCA, she received a photo via text message of the neglected puppy on July 2nd from Orme and was not able to visit the farm herself for several days due to having the flu. She claims to have forwarded the picture to SPCA staff veterinarian, Kelly Bergman, and also asked representatives from ORCA, another local animal rescue organization, to investigate. ORCA officers allege that they went to the farm and were unable to locate the animal. Bergman reported back to Martin that, based on the picture she saw, the puppy was “not in imminent danger.” According to Pennsylvania law, Martin says, “unless the dog were in imminent danger, no officer could seize the dog without a warrant,” and she did not feel that the picture she received showed sufficient cause for a warrant.
Once the pup received medical attention and the veterinarians were able to access his condition, they reported their findings to Martin, who chose not to press charges against the farmer. The only way they would be able to prosecute a case for neglect against the breeder is if they had a veterinarian willing to testify against him. According to Martin, no one had been willing. When asked about the reports of the pup being maggot infested and left for dead, Martin said those reports could not be substantiated.
The Creation of Libre’s Law
Lancaster county district attorney Craig Stedman looked into the situation and took matters into his own hands. He was presented with enough evidence to file a summary citation against the farmer because of the severe physical distress the pup suffered due to lack of care. Unfortunately, that is the maximum allowable punishment under the current state law. Stedman was also looking into the conduct of Martin and asked a judge to sign an order vacating Martin’s authority due to her, “substandard of conduct normally expected of humane society police officers.”
Thanks to Stedman, Pennsylvania is making strides towards more sufficient animal cruelty laws. For now, the policing, enforcing and prosecuting of animal cruelty cases will not be the job of the Lancaster county SPCA. The responsibility will temporarily fall to the state and local police departments until animal cruelty officers can be hand-selected by the district attorney’s office, can undergo specific training, and be subjected to background checks. Stedman is also asking state legislators to make changes in Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws asking for harsher penalties for those convicted of cruelty and to increase the grading of some types of cruelty from summary to misdemeanor.
Libre is currently a healthy and happy pup that has been adopted by Guido. He has graduated from obedience school and makes appearances around the state helping to bring awareness to the cause and to promote the pending legislation, lovingly dubbed Libre’s Law. Regrettably, the law was not brought up for a vote last month but will be reintroduced next year.
It is so distressing that it took the near death of this precious pup to open the eyes and hearts of this state, but animal advocates are rejoicing for the change he has inspired. Pennsylvania has a long way to go until we can proclaim ourselves as a pet-friendly state. These changes are a very long, overdue first step towards laws that have been insufficient for decades.
Image courtesy of Speranza Animal Rescue.
Charlie has been in the veterinary field for the last 18+ years, 14 of which she has spent as a board certified technician. She graduated with honors, from Harcum College as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, with an Associate’s of Science degree in Veterinary Technology.