Category Archive 'Animal Welfare Outrages'

05 Aug 2009

SPCA Outrage in Philadelphia 1

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photo: Karen L. Myers
Wendy Willard and the Murder Hollow Bassets at the National Beagle Club in Aldie, Virginia (photo: Karen L. Myers)

Following packs of beagles or bassets afoot in hunting club uniforms in pursuit of the cottontail rabbit is, like croquet, one of the recherchée passions of the old school gentry.

The Murder Hollow Bassets of Philadelphia (a private pack* founded in 1986) is one thirteen organized packs of basset hounds recognized by the National Beagle Club hunting in the United States.

In 2006-2007, Murder Hollow had 7 1/2 couple (15) AKC English-French cross basset hounds. They hunt on private land in Montgomery and Bucks Counties from September to March.

The sort of people who go in for basseting are typically well-educated, upper middle-class animal lovers of a preparatory school sort of background. In other words, the very last sort of people imaginable to be dog abusers or law breakers.

But neither gentility nor middle-aged respectability was sufficient to protect the Murder Hollow’s Master Wendy Willard from a full scale raid by Philadelphia police, nor did it prevent 13 hounds from being taken from their kennels and turned over to a private animal rights organization hostile to hunting.

This incident has so far attracted no blog or media coverage, but was mentioned on a fox hunting list yesterday, and reported today on the Border Collie Bulletin Board.

The local SPCA raided Wendy’s Willard’s kennel where she keeps her Murder Hollow Bassets on Monday night. They arrived with seven trucks and two police cars & informed her that one of her neighbours had complained about noise.

Neither the neighbour nor the SPCA had previously complained to her, yet she has been there for 22 years.

As it turns out, Philadelphia County had recently passed an ordinance where no more than 12 animals may be kept on any property. The Murder Hollow kennels contained 23 bassets, less than the requirement to obtain a (US) Department of Agriculture kennel licence, but the kennel is just inside the city limits.

Under this law, the local SPCA have managed to acquire the power to seize people’s dogs without warning, by force and by night, and then to take them away to an unknown destination without any accountability.

The police took 12 hounds and delivered them to an SPCA animal rescue “shelter” in Philadelphia. From there the hounds were dispersed amongst other “shelters”.

Basset packs in the area have contacted a Mr. Little who runs the SPCA shelter, seeking to place the hounds before they are put down or neutered (thereby destroying 20 years of Murder Hollow’s breeding programme). After a week, Mr. Little has failed to respond to any of these contacts.

So far, the only response from Mr. Little has been a statement to the effect that that the hounds tested positive for Lyme’s disease but were asymptomatic and are now being treated for Lyme’s and a skin condition. On the face of it, his organisation seems to be trying to rack up a bill for these animals, though one is not sure whether this is to deter Mrs Willard trying to recover her hounds or because his rescue operation has a right to recover its costs from an errant kennel owner. In this context it is relevant to point out that most of those who keep dogs & hounds in south central or south east Pennsylvania will have hounds that test positive to some degree for Lyme’s.

This whole episode seems a totally disproportionate & inappropriate way to deal with a middle-aged woman with no criminal record, who just happens to keep a pack of hunting bassets. It would surely have been appropriate to notify the owner of the new ordinance before conducting such a raid.

To further complicate matters, some of the hounds taken were on loan from another pack in Tennessee (presumably the Upper Bay Bassets of Strawberry Plains, Tennessee) and, despite the Tennessee owner (Eugene and/or Richard Askins)’s pleas, the PSPCA will not tell her where to find her hounds.

* A private pack, unlike a subscription pack, has no membership dues and holds no fund raising events. Subscription packs are incorporated entities. The master of a private pack owns the hounds personally, and simply pays for food, veterinary care, kennel upkeep, transportation, and all other expenses directly out of his (or her) own pocket.

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UPDATE, August 6:

Mr. James Scharnberg, Master of the Skycastle French Hounds, writes:

Please contact by phone and e-mail the following officers of the PSPCA (Pennsylvania Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), headquartered at 350 E. Erie Ave., Phila., PA 19134, to ask about the location of and about adopting the 11 Bassets that were seized from Ms. Wendy Willard, master of a nationally registered Basset pack in Philadelphia County, on Monday night, 27 July:

Ms. Harrise Yaron, Chairman of the Board, PSPCA E-mail: hyaron@aol.com

Ms. Susan Cosby, CEO of PSPCA Erie Ave Shelter E-mail: scosby@pspca.org
TN: 215-426-6300, Ext. 214

Mr. Ray Little, Director of Adoptions and Foster Care/Rescue Groups
E-mail: rlittle@pspca.org TN: 215-426-6304, Ext. 251 Cell: 215-816-5301
Fax: 215-426-4517

Ms. Gail Luciani, Chief Public Relations Officer, PSPCA E-mail: gluciani@pspca.org
TN: 215-426-6300, Ext. 213 Cell: 215-901-9706

Ms. Willard was raided by the PSPCA and police due to a first time noise complaint, and told that unless she released 11 of her 23 hounds to them they would seize them all, under a new 12-dog-limit city ordinance. Since that night, despite countless calls and e-mails to the PSPCA, they have refused to reveal the fate or location of the hounds, or let a large number of licensed local basset hound packs and individuals, and several veterinarians, in the five county area take in the hounds. We have been told only that they have been “sent to rescue” to an independent care facility, and that they are under no obligation to tell us anything.

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SECOND UPDATE, August 6, 1:45 P.M.:

I spoke on the telephone with Ray Little and Gail Luciani, identifying myself as a blogger from Virginia covering the Murder Hollow Basset situation.

Mr. Little was completely unwilling to discuss the bassets. He told me he was not involved in this matter, referred me to Ms. Luciani, and got off the line as quickly as possible.

I was able to reach Ms. Luciani after several attempts. She declined to provide any substantive answers, telling me the case of Ms. Willard’s basset hounds was “under investigation.”

I asked what could they possibly be investigating for over a week in connection with a minor technical violation of a new ordinance unknown to the dogs’ owner. Ms. Luciani promised that information would be provided at the PSPCA web-page at some indeterminate future time. She specifically refused to identify how long it would be before they were prepared to publish that promised information, or what information would be forthcoming.

Ms. Luciani repeatedly said the hounds were “in rescue,” relying consistently on stony-faced invocations of official jargon as a means of avoiding responsive meaningful answers to legitimate questions concerning the hounds’ current condition and location or the PSPCA’s intentions and refusal to communicate with the hounds’ owners, outside veterinarians, and concerned friends of Wendy Willard and the Murder Hollow Bassets. She seemed a bit upset, when I demanded to know whether she was a dog owner herself, and asked how she thought her dogs would react if taken forcibly from her and confined in strange surroundings in a small cage.

Attempts to appeal to Ms. Luciani’s humanity were, nonetheless, not productive. She rapidly composed herself and resumed stonewalling, finally excusing herself rapidly to deal, doubtless similarly, with other callers.

These days, a mass-murdering terrorist can invoke habeas corpus or like Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, force the government to modify the conditions of his confinement. There is no habeas corpus though for animals that fall into the clutches of self-appointed guardian organizations like the PSPCA.

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Some Corrections, 8/11:

Three bassets seized by PSPCA had come from the Sandanona Hare Hounds. One was a stud fee puppy, one a drafted hound given to the Murder Hollow pack, the third was a retired basset given to Wendy Willard to live in retirement as a pet. Sandanona hounds are given with a contract retaining ownership, and requiring their return to Sandanona if they cannot be cared for, specifically in order to prevent them ever winding up in an animal shelter’s cages.

Some hounds from Upper Bay were at Murder Hollow, but the Upper Bay Hounds were not surrendered.

Ms. Willard evidently erroneously accepted PSPCA Officer Loller’s assurances that Mrs. Parks of Sandanona would be permitted to reclaim her hounds.

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A truculent and self-congratulatory individual named Patrick Burns, who blogs over at Terrierman’s Daily Dose, has a nasty habit of bashing other sportsmen in order to make himself feel good.

Burns came hurrying to PSPCA’s defense not long after this posting appeared, gleefully accepting the PSPCA version of events as definitively establishing that those Murder Hollow basset hounds were neglected and abused, Wendy Willard was a confirmed violator of the law, and a crazy old lady whose hounds should be taken away from her. I am a paranoid right-wing blogger irresponsibly misreporting all this, according to Burns.

The original anonymously posted account of the raid above said: As it turns out, Philadelphia County had recently passed an ordinance where no more than 12 animals may be kept on any property.

Burns is correct that the anonymous poster was mistaken. The Philadelphia Code § 10-103(8) which says:


Maximum Number of Dogs and Cats Allowed. No residential dwelling unit shall keep a total of more than twelve (12) adult dogs or cats combined, of which no more than four (4) may be unneutered, unless the Department of Public Health has been notified and granted a waiver.

This section of the Philadelphia Code was added in 1986, and amended in 1992.

Wendy Willard might have been in violation of that limit. I will discuss why I say “might” in another new post.


photo: Elizabeth W. Harpham

photo: Elizabeth W. Harpham


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