Early this morning, we lost Senator Robert C. Byrd, a great spokesman and champion for animals. Senator Byrd—the longest-serving member of Congress—was one of our most vocal and impassioned statesmen on behalf of animal protection. He personified the best of politics—standing up for the underdog both literally and figuratively. Whether he was speaking out against blatant animal cruelty or seeking to ensure that laws like the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Slaughter Act were adequately funded, Senator Byrd made it clear that animals really matter—they enrich us—and, as a result, we are responsible for their humane care and well-being every day of our lives.
During the early hours of June 24, members of the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response Team assisted the Elk County Humane Society of St. Mary's, PA, in the rescue of nearly 400 cats from a sanctuary known as the Animal Friends of Elk and Cameron Counties. More than 50 first responders, including staff and volunteers from the American Humane Association, which also provided sheltering services, and PetSmart Charities, which provided much-needed supplies, assisted in the raid.
Joel Lopez, member of the ASPCA Field Investigation and Response Team, checks in on one of the rescued cats.
The cats—including numerous kittens—were found living in deplorable, overcrowded conditions on the first floor of a two-story commercial building about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The investigation was set into motion after complaints about the facility were received by the Elk County Humane Society, which in turn contacted the ASPCA for assistance.
According to Dr. Melinda Merck, ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics, the cats are suffering from a host of ailments, including upper respiratory and eye infections and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). In addition, many cats are expected to test positive for the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)—a highly transmittable disease that weakens the immune system and makes cats susceptible to secondary infections. Several of the cats were found in critical condition.
"The overcrowding and unsanitary environment coupled with the stress of coping with untreated illnesses, has resulted in severe conditions for many of these cats," says Dr. Merck. "Every effort is being made to treat them and make them comfortable, and most appear to be friendly and well-socialized."
The cats were placed into the custody of the Elk County Humane Society and transported to an emergency shelter set up in a nearby location. Once there, a team of veterinarians conducted exams on each animal and triaged any immediate needs. The veterinary team led by the ASPCA's Dr. Merck, included Dr. Rhonda Windam, Anti-Cruelty Veterinarian at the ASPCA, Dr. Jason Byrd, Associate Director of the Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Dr. Julie Levy, also with the University of Florida, veterinary students from the University of Pennsylvania led by Dr. Michael Moyer and veterinary technicians from the ASPCA.
To aid ASPCA investigators in the collection and management of forensic evidence, the Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit was deployed to the site. The ASPCA's new custom-designed animal transport trailer, mobile command truck and equipment trailer were also on hand.
"We are grateful to be in a position to provide resources and assistance in this overwhelming situation," says Tim Rickey, ASPCA's Senior Director of Field Investigation and Response. "Right now, our primary concern is to get these animals the care and treatment they so desperately need."
Please stay tuned to the ASPCA Blog for updated information on the St. Mary's case.
On June 17, the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response Team was deployed to Waynesboro, TN, to assist the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department with a critical hoarding intervention. A total of 85 dogs—including German Shepherds, Labradors and Hound mixes—were discovered in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on a property owned by an elderly man. The dogs were contained in large pens, chained to posts throughout the yard and found roaming the property.
“The dumping of dogs is a serious problem throughout this area and local authorities are without the resources or infrastructure to handle the problem,” says Kyle Held, the ASPCA’s Midwest Regional Director of Field Investigations and Response. “In this case, an elderly man became overwhelmed by the number of dogs in his care—he obviously needed help and voluntarily gave us custody of the animals.”
Twelve of the rescued dogs have since been moved—via the ASPCA’s new, custom-built animal transport trailer—to the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City where they are undergoing medical treatment before being made available for adoption.
“Many of the dogs tested heartworm positive,” says Dr. Robert Reisman, Medical Coordinator of Abuse Cases at the ASPCA. “Heartworm is a treatable condition, but it will take at least six to eight weeks until the treatment is complete.”
The remaining dogs were transferred to ASPCA partner agencies, including Nashville Humane Association and the Atlanta Humane Society—two organizations that played a vital role in the case by providing essential resources such as veterinary mobile clinics to treat animals at the scene. Local veterinarians and volunteers, including Dr. Rebecca Coleman of Memphis, TN, also assisted with the on-site medical needs of the animals. PetSmart Charities donated 100 crates to temporarily house and transport the animals.
“With the generous assistance of local law enforcement and our partner agencies, we were able to organize the rescue operation and do what’s best for the animals,” says Held. “We removed them from the property, provided medical and behavioral evaluations, and will now find them loving homes.”
To learn more about animal hoarding, visit our Hoarding FAQ. Please stay tuned to the ASPCA Blog for updated information on the status of the dogs.
Tim Rickey, ASPCA’s Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response, transports two rescued dogs to safety
Kyle Held, ASPCA’s Midwest Director of Field Investigations and Response, provides comfort to a frightened pup.
Earlier last week, the ASPCA announced the launch of the nation's first criminal dog fighting DNA database, known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Similar to the FBI's human CODIS—a computerized archive that stores the DNA profiles of criminal offenders and crime scene evidence—the Canine CODIS contains the individual DNA profiles of dogs who have been seized during dog fighting investigations and from samples collected at suspected dog fighting venues. This new, state-of-the-art system will provide an essential tool for law enforcement to prosecute dog fighting cases nationwide.
"Dog fighting is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise that contributes to the cruel treatment and deaths of thousands of dogs nationwide every year," says Tim Rickey, the ASPCA's Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response. "This database is a vital component in the fight against animal cruelty and will allow us to strengthen cases against animal abusers and seek justice for their victims."
During an investigation, seized dogs will have their cheeks swabbed, and their DNA will be searched against the Canine CODIS database. Matching results will help law enforcement agencies identify relationships between dogs, and enable investigators to establish connections between breeders, trainers and dog fighters.
"Juries expect forensic science to support the evidence that's presented to them, and animal cruelty cases are no exception," says ASPCA Forensic Veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck, who testifies in animal cruelty cases around the country. "This database breaks new ground in supplying that evidence for dog fighting investigations."
The ASPCA worked in conjunction with the Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) and the Louisiana SPCA (LA/SPCA) to develop the Canine CODIS. The system will be maintained at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.
On June 8, Staten Island, NY, resident Joedennys Malave was arrested and charged with 10 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. The 30-year-old is accused of starving his 6-year-old Pit Bull, Beauty, and her nine newborn pups.
The initial investigation began on May 9, when a neighbor reported seeing Malave walking an extremely thin dog outside of his New Brighton home. ASPCA Special Investigator Mark MacDonald responded to the scene, where he discovered 10 severely emaciated dogs living inside a large cage—all were in dire need of medical attention.
The animals were rushed to ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, where three of the nine puppies received immediate intensive intervention. All of the pups required hourly bottle feedings. Veterinarians performed additional tests to determine whether the dogs' condition was due to neglect or illness. The final report concluded that malnourishment was to blame—all muscle and fat had been exhausted.
"Unfortunately, we see far too many Pit Bulls being abused and neglected by their owners," says Stacy Wolf, Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel of the Humane Law Enforcement Department. "Our goal is twofold—holding perpetrators accountable for their cruel and callous acts and, when we can, giving the animal victims a second chance at a better life in a new home."
In tribute to the characters from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, ASPCA hospital staffers named the now-thriving pups Lefou, Rose, Juliet, Fifi, Belle, Lumiere, Philippe, Chip and Mrs. Potts. The pups will undergo further rehabilitation before being placed up for adoption. Malave is scheduled to be arraigned on July 8.
If you know of an animal whose health is being compromised by neglect or abuse, please report it. Visit our Report Cruelty FAQ to learn how to report cruelty in your neighborhood.