YORK COUNTY, Pa. — An animal cruelty case in York County is raising questions about whether incidents of suspected animal abuse or neglect are properly investigated. FOX43 Reveals how resources are stretched thin for animal cruelty investigations in one of the biggest counties in Central Pennsylvania.
When you suspect animal cruelty, your first call should not necessarily be to police. Neighbors in Newberry Township learned that the hard way. They contacted police several times over the course of two months to report animal cruelty. Couple Kathryn S. and Dave Munz had witnessed two pit bulls being physically abused outside their home on Conewago Avenue. The animals were emaciated and scarred.
“I mean, it was horrendous. There was a pregnant mama chained up to the wheel of a car, literally lodged underneath the trailer, withered away to nothing with scars all over the top of her head and I’m thinking, this is horrible,” said Munz. “Then one day, I see the dog started pulling and he kicked the dog. I was like, 'Man, that dude just kicked that dog. That’s messed up.’”
Munz is referring to is a former co-worker of his neighbor, Faith Doran. The man owned the pit bulls and was homeless, so Doran had been letting him stay on her property. She did not expect what came next.
Faith Doran: One day, the black dog Widow got out and he just punched into her.
Rachel Yonkunas: What did you think when you saw him physically abuse them?
Faith Doran: I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get…
Rachel Yonkunas: You were scared?
Faith Doran: Yeah, because when you have a conversation with the gentleman, he gets defensive. Very defensive.
Out of fear, Doran said nothing and the man kept his dogs locked up in her garage for hours each day.
“I’ll show you how they spent the last weeks here. He would block the door like this and it would be tighter so they couldn’t get out,” Doran said as she showed FOX43 Reveals the makeshift kennels in her garage that had no windows where light could get in. “They were in here for 17 and a half hours a day and I’m not exaggerating.”
Doran tells FOX43 Reveals this went on for about a month and neighbors were outraged that nothing was being done about it. This is where a collapse in communication almost cost these dogs their lives. Neighbors said they called 911 several times, but it got nowhere. Munz started calling agencies from other counties.
“Nobody’s answering me so I’m calling more people, calling more people. I’m calling everybody and then that night I said, ‘I’m calling the news man maybe they can help me,’” Munz said.
FOX43 Reveals these messages never immediately made it to the man in charge of investigating cases of animal cruelty for York County: Officer Otto Cruz. Police should have connected neighbors with Officer Cruz. He is the humane society police officer with the York County SPCA and takes the initial lead on animal cruelty investigations throughout the county.
Officer Cruz had been to Doran’s home in the past. She previously had too many animals on her property and Officer Cruz had encouraged her to surrender the dogs in order to find them homes. He also has provided Doran with dog food to help her care for her animals and said he tries to educate her on proper animal ownership.
Officer Cruz said the two pit bulls in question did not appear to be in poor condition when he last visited the home on September 30. He said he did not know the female was pregnant at the time and he could not prove where the scars had come from.
FOX43 Reveals asked why there were not any immediate concerns about the dogs’ living conditions. A SPCA spokesperson said that the conditions are technically legal under Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty law.
“If the animal has adequate food, water and shelter, he has no legal grounds to obtain a search warrant,” said Kaila Young, communications director for the York County SPCA.
Rachel Yonkunas: If the owner fails to get them adequate vet care though, isn’t that considered neglect?
Officer Cruz: If the situation is bad and the animal needs vet care, then yes, but [Faith] was treating the scratches and the wounds. She was not the owner of these dogs, so she was trying her best until the owner came back. The owner was out of town.
The owner, who FOX43 Reveals has not been able to identify, left his dogs on Doran’s property and may have even left the state. Officer Cruz said he told Doran to surrender the dogs to Speranza Animal Rescue in Cumberland County.
The rescue confirmed that the female was emaciated and gave birth to one puppy. The male had an infection from an old wound and an ear infection. Newberry Township Police tell FOX43 Reveals that they are not investigating further, and neither is the York County SPCA.
Rachel Yonkunas: Even though an animal is surrendered, animal cruelty laws still need to be enforced so what happens next?
Officer Cruz: The problem here is who do I charge? [Faith] had the burden of care, but he’s the owner. She was trying. He was trying. Let’s say I give him a fine. What’s the point really? He doesn’t have the money.
Rachel Yonkunas: Deterrence?
Officer Cruz: He’s not going to be in Pennsylvania anymore.
However, the story does not end here. FOX43 Reveals that there are close to 1,000 animal cruelty reports in York County every year. Officer Cruz is the only humane society police officer for the county, meaning he is responsible for investigating every call by himself.
Rachel Yonkunas: How do you ensure no case falls through the cracks or is shortchanged in the investigation because you have so many other cases that you’re working on?
Officer Cruz: I prioritize cases. I try to go to every single case every single time. It might take me a week, it is what it is. I’m only one.
Officer Cruz said he tries to educate animal owners, instead of prosecute, to keep pets out of shelters. If a dog is seized instead of surrendered, they are not able to go up for adoption. There been previous cases where a dog has been at the SPCA for nearly two years while the animal cruelty case makes its way through the court system. Officer Cruz said he also works to collaborate with police and other agencies when possible.
“Through Otto’s great relationships with police and with animal control officers in the county, that’s how he is able to manage,” said Young.
However, he is only one person and the state’s animal cruelty law has many gray areas. This is a big concern for animal lovers like Dave and Kathryn, who said the pit bulls across the street should have been rescued much sooner.
“They don’t have a voice. They have no voice,” said Munz. “They can’t reach out for help. It’s sad. It’s sad to watch.”
“They have eyes though, and in those eyes, you could see it,” Kathryn added.
The dogs are still in the care of Speranza Animal Rescue, including the puppy who has had to be bottle fed. Officer Cruz said he will be following up on this case. The York County SPCA said the best way to report animal abuse or neglect is by submitting a form online through their website.
FOX43 Reveals issues that affect you and your family to keep you informed. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send us an email at FOX43reveals@FOX43.com.