Solutions for Willamette’s Abused Animals -part two
About the cover
For our cover story in this issue, Part 2 of the Willamette animal abuse series, Salem Weekly selected work from local pet portrait artist Rachael Rossman for the cover art.
Rachael Rossman is a portrait painter living in Salem. All of her work is done in watercolor on yupo paper, giving her pieces a unique style. Rossman is often commissioned to paint pets – mostly dogs, cats, horses (she often paints children, too – although they are not considered pets). Her pet portraits have been commissioned by celebrity fans and she has painted for clients in five of the seven continents.
You can find out more about Rachael Rossman in an upcoming issue of Salem Weekly as a featured artist in Art Canvas. Until then, check out her website www.rachaelrossman.com, her Facebook page www.facebook.com/rachaelrossmanart or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover Art: “McGee” watercolor on yupo.
Since Alicia Inglish’s arrest in January,* Salem-area animal advocates have renewed discussion about what might be done to better to protect the animals that live among us. Conclusions range from better education for law enforcement to promoting more support for private agencies to backing three game-changing new bills in the legislature.
Because investigating cruelty, the work of law enforcement, is a difficult task involving “locked gates, rapid movement of animals to non-visible areas, guns aimed at us, no trespassing signs, and the like,” according to Dr. Barbara Kahl, president of the United SPCA, it faces the same challenges as other law enforcement duties.
“I am not so sure the public realizes the effort, manpower and resources that are required to make arrests,” agrees Wayne Geiger, founder of Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary for abused livestock in Scio.
With complex laws of every kind already in their minds, some officers aren’t clear on animal statutes.** Mike Newman, local volunteer and animal advocate, tells of a county Animal Control officer who felt that an airline animal carrier, with open sides and tops and bedding saturated with water, was ‘adequate shelter’ for a dog. “It was an example of someone who doesn’t know the law,” Newman says.
A step in the right direction has already been taken by sheriffs, who invited input and education from an expert. Marion County recently asked Michelle Blake, co-chair of the board of Fences for Fido, a regional group that relieves chained dogs by building fences at no charge. “I brought along an animal law attorney who was super-engaging and could speak their language,” Blake relates.
“[The sheriffs] were generally supportive of, and interested in, enforcing cruelty and neglect cases.” Officers even requested pocket-sized reference cards, which Blake provided. On one side is a summary of Oregon laws defining minimum care standards, and on the other side is a resource list of agencies.
Education can help, but, Blake admits, the lower prioritization of animal crimes will probably never change. “[Sheriffs] said there are challenges… when they feel like their first priority is busting drug labs and fighting the things that people view as ‘bigger’ crimes.” Geiger also mentions “the lack of prioritization by law enforcement” as a reason the process can go slowly. He says, further, “Law enforcement does not have the manpower to spend on orchestrating a warrant, seizure and placement of these animals.”
Constitutional rights will always slow assistance to animal victims
“I spoke with law enforcement [about the suspicious condition of Inglish’s animals] on many occasions,” Juan Lopez, Community Outreach Coordinator for Willamette Valley Animal Hospital in Keizer says. “They always gave me the same response; ‘we are well aware of the situation but currently there is nothing that can be done legally.’”
“This country was founded on individual rights of citizens,” reminds Marion County Sheriff spokesman Don Thomson. “We wouldn’t change that. That’s why, generally, law enforcement usually approaches issues of neglect non-confrontationally, trying first for compliance.”
Non-Governmental Cruelty Officers Might Help
Cruelty investigation was carried out by the Willamette Humane Society in Salem starting in the early 1990s. Trained staff responded to calls, investigated abusive situations and worked alongside law enforcement. Their job was to support and enable police work, lessening the burden on these agencies.
Investigators developed ways “to work with and aid sheriffs,” says Dr. Arlene Brooks of Turner’s Homestead Veterinary Clinic.
Cruelty investigators would ultimately hand law enforcement “an evaluated case with veterinary input to present to a DA for prosecution,” according to Brooks. Because of these efforts, “most cases were solved without police involvement.”
The cruelty investigation positions were eliminated in October 2009. When asked why, Joan Towers, Executive Director of Willamette Humane Society, says, “Given the demonstrated limitations and challenges of its humane investigations program, WHS suspended this division and continued to focus on caring for animal victims of neglect and abuse.”
“Willamette Humane Society is restricted by statute to limit any complaint response to citizen education and redirection to authorized agents rather than attempt its own investigations.”
In a similar program, however, Oregon Humane Society (OHS) in Portland still employs one non-commissioned and two commissioned cruelty officers. OHS officers can investigate cruelty anywhere in the state, and have access to criminal database. They receive the same training as police officers.
OHS Director Sharon Harmon describes the success of these investigations. Because officers provide “as much social work as law enforcement,” they generally resolve cases without recourse to the judicial system. The cost for the inspection program is $425,000 of OHS’s $10 million/year budget.
Enhanced funding to non-profits
Arrests are only an early chapter in stories of how abuse is resolved. Because sick, injured and malnourished animals cannot be housed by law enforcement, they must be transferred to a variety of shelters for care and – if the animal is determined “adoptable” – adoption services.
The organizations providing these are usually private non-profits. They are also struggling.
United SPCA, Hope’s Haven, Oregon Humane Society, Willamette Humane Society, GoodFellas Rescue, Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary and Salem Friends of Felines – are shelters that rely on donations. Veterinary care for victims of cruelty is provided at reduced cost by The Last Chance Club in Turner, another charity in needs of funds. The Oregon Hay Bank, which assists rescued animals and financially strapped individuals with feed assistance, perpetually needs help. So does the “unchaining” group, Fences for Fido.
Sonya Pulvers, of Marion County Animal Control lays it out, saying, “Truthfully, shelter… funding will ultimately be the biggest issue anyone faces when trying to deal with these cases.” Even her tax-funded Animal Control must request donations to keep up with demand.
Transforming lives through innovative new laws
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) has collaborated on SB6, a bill that tackles a huge number of current problems. Created in partnership with OHS, it increases punishment for animal neglect offenses.
To the applause of many, it also mandates the licensing and inspecting of animal rescues like Inglish’s. “What a great idea,” responds Jan Petree, co-founder of Salem Friends of Felines. “Right now, health inspectors can come into a restaurant at the drop of a hat; fire marshals can check on businesses without notice; people can make a report to child services and there will be a home visit. Protection for our animals should to be the same. Some agency should have the right to knock on the door and enter these facilities.”
A second bill, HB2783 excites Fences for Fido’s Michelle Blake. If made into law, HB2783 would “effectively eliminate chaining as a primary means of confinement,” she says. It would also clarify the language of the minimum care statues, “so hopefully it will more useful to law enforcement officers who are out in the field and trying to decide whether a particular situation is against the law.”
The legislation was created in the Committee Agriculture and Natural Resources committee with the cooperation of Fences for Fido. Brian Clem (D-Salem) a member of that committee believes the bill has “a really good chance of passing. The concept is not a ban, but a limit on hours-per-day of chaining.”
Finally, HB2745 is championed by United SPCA’s Kahl. She believes it “would allow citizens more ability to help animals through the civil process, decreasing the burden to law enforcement.”
Animal advocates unanimously mention the importance public pressure has in the passage of any bill.
In addition to the above, suggestions to bring relief to area animals include harsher criminal consequences for cruelty, a state agency such as the California Humane Association, which “… isn’t a Humane Society, but more of a statewide resource for Humane Societies offering trainings… and support,” according to Geiger – and a thought mentioned repeatedly by Lopez and many others – stricter licensing of animal breeders.
Whatever the future brings, Oregon’s animal policies ultimately reflect our concern for each other. As Senator Courtney’s staff points out, recent studies have shown that people who abuse animals also abuse humans. “The law needs to be very clear that if you abuse people or pets, you go to jail. Both are unacceptable.”
** Oregon animal protection laws are defined in ORS 167.310 – 167.390, viewable online