07 Aug 2009

SPCA Outrage in Philadelphia 2: The PSPCA Strikes Back

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The Inquirer posted a photograph of the wrong house. That home’s owner contacted me by email today asking me to remove the copy I posted of the photo.

Stung by criticism on the Internet of their July 27th raid on the kennels of Wendy Willard’s Murder Hollow Basset pack, the confiscation of eleven basset hounds, and PSPCA’s refusal for ten days to provide information on the hounds’ whereabouts or fate to concerned friends, the Animal Care and Control organization began yesterday to defend itself, first (yesterday afternoon, by some coincidence, not very long after my phone conversation with PR officer Gail Luciani) releasing a seemingly conciliatory statement suggesting that PSPCA was “working with the hounds’ owner” and even thanking (!) the Basset community.

Murder Hollow Basset Hound Update

In response to complaints, Pennsylvania SPCA officers visited the location of Murder Hollow Kennels and left requests to be contacted. There was no response to these requests.

On a follow-up visit by a Pennsylvania SPCA officer and representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Dog Law six days later, the owner was present but refused entry. Both Dog Law representatives and Pennsylvania SPCA officers returned later that evening with warrants to enter the property.

The dogs were found to be in unsanitary conditions, and the number of dogs present exceeded the City of Philadelphia limit of 12 animals allowed on a property.

In lieu of charges, Pennsylvania SPCA agents worked with the owner to reduce the number of dogs on the premises and allowed her time to clean and make improvements to the area in which the dogs were housed.

The owner surrendered some of the dogs and is working to clean and improve the kennels prior to a follow-up inspection. The Pennsylvania SPCA is encouraged by her efforts in providing and maintaining a more sanitary setting as well as veterinary care for the dogs that remain.

The dogs are safe in foster care with an independent, partner organization.

We appreciate the outpouring of support for these dogs from the Bassett community.

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Murder Hollow hounds last year. They’ve never looked covered with feces, or riddled with parasites, any time I saw them.

Most of us did not know then that, slightly earlier, PSPCA had planted a much more colorful story with a sympathetic reporter at the Inquirer, which appeared yesterday morning.

Philadelphia resident Wendy Willard ran in tony rabbit and fox hunting circles. Her pack, formed in 1986, was listed among a select handful from Virginia hunt country and elsewhere in the prestigious Chronicle of the Horse, the bible of the horse and hound crowd. The kennel’s Bassets won awards at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show.

Last week the Pennsylvania SPCA raided her farmhouse in the Schuylkill Valley Nature Preserve and found 23 dogs covered in feces and riddled with parasites, said George Bengal, the PSPCA’s director of law enforcement.

“The kennel was a mess,” he said.

Humane agents first went to the house on July 21 in response to neighbor complaints about noise and odor, said Bengal. Finding no one home, they left cards asking the property owner to contact them. When no one responded, an agent and two state dog wardens returned on July 27. Willard refused them entry and as they left the property she threw stones at the officers’ vehicles, said Bengal.

They returned later that day with a search warrant and found dogs living in what Bengal described as unsanitary conditions and in need of veterinary care. Willard voluntarily surrendered 11 dogs and agreed to comply with certain conditions for keeping the rest, including inspections, he said.

“We could have charged her, but we didn’t yet,” said Bengal. “We could have seized the dogs, but she agreed to get medical care for the remaining dogs and spay or neuter eight of the 12 dogs” – the limit allowed under the city’s decades old animal ordinance.

Since there were fewer than 26 dogs on the property (the number required for a state kennel license) there were no citations issued by the state, said Chris Ryder, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.

The dogs that were removed were placed with Basset hound rescue groups, the PSPCA said.

The PSPCA’s executive director Sue Cosby said they did not initially release any information about the incident because they thought they could resolve the issue amicably with the owner.

“The officer heading the case really went out of her way to work with the owner in an effort to have the kennels cleaned up and the dogs cared for rather than file charges and take all of the dogs,'” said Cosby in an email.

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So if you believe the PSPCA, this is one of those cases of a disturbed and arrogant society woman who belligerently defies law enforcement officers and throws rocks at them, while keeping a kennel full of neglected, filthy, and disease-ridden basset hounds, which hounds nevertheless, despite their pitiable condition, qualify for inclusion as a listed pack under the strict standards of the National Beagle Club, compete successfully at pack trials, and win prizes at the prestigious and highly competitive Bryn Mawr Hound Show.

Those of us familiar with basset packs have a couple of basic problems with the eccentric-woman-neglected-animals story line.

Although Wendy Willard as Master, is sole owner and supreme authority over the Murder Hollow Bassets, no basset pack operates single-handedly and in isolation. There is a staff, in this case of no less than ten Whippers-in: First Whipper-in: Lidie Peace. Hon. Whippers-in: Ginny Hofmann, Judy Hohmann, Pat West, Mary Bentley, Roy Feldman, Becky Forry, Philip Hofmann Sr., Trey Norris, Pat Renner.

The Murder Hollow pack has, listed publicly, all together, eleven active hunt staff members, all obviously drawn from the same “tony rabbit and fox hunting circles,” referred to ironically by the Inquirer.

Now while it is not difficult to believe that one single aging woman alone might possibly, because of circumstances of health, emotional stability, or even poverty, come to neglect so grievously a kennel full of dogs, in this case, we are expected to believe that 11 residents of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Philadelphia, all active and enthusiastic members of the horse and hound community, have all participated in a systematic pattern of animal neglect, failing to clean kennels, to deal with parasites, to monitor hounds’ health or to provide veterinary care.

These would be the same people who, as photos like this one show, don green woolen jackets and wear ironed white stock ties to run through the tick-infested woods at Aldie on warm days. Yet the lazy scoundrels cannot be bothered to clean their kennels. They will spend money on travel to pack trials in other states or on hunt uniforms, but won’t pay for vets. Sure.

Allegations about unsanitary kennels are pretty easy to come up with. Hounds do defecate. Nobody polices every pile of dog poop from the kennel floor the minute it arrives 24/7.

Riddled with parasites? What does that mean, I wonder. Did they see one hound scratching, and infer fleas?

Crediting the PSPCA’s good faith on allegations of this kind requires knowing a bit more about the role, character, and standard operations of that organization. I was confused myself yesterday about how it was that what I thought to be only a private humanitarian organization kept talking about violations, as if it were a branch of the government. I did not understand. They are.

I’m going to take a look at the PSPCA, who they are, what they do, and how they do business in another post. Soon.

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PBBurns, of Terrierman’s Daily Dose, took one look at NYM’s righthand column (Michelle Malkin, Charlton Heston, Islamaphobia, oh my!) and, naturally, decided I’m insane.

His observation that in blog coverage of stories one typically wants to compare a variety of news accounts is perfectly correct. However, in this case, I have a modest level of personal acquaintance with Wendy Willard and the Murder Hollow Bassets, as I’m member of the same “tony rabbit and fox hunting circles” myself. The incident came to my attention via reports circulated on hunting email lists, and repeated on the Border Collie board. The Inquirer story only appeared yesterday morning, and was not being found by Google the same day. I’ve done lots of Google searches. I’ve talked to people from basset circles who have tried to reclaim, visit, or obtain information about the confiscated hounds, and who are familiar with the detailed circumstances of the case. I also talked to the PSPCA people myself. Thank you for your advice, PB.

If I was not acquainted personally with basseting, or if I had first read that Inquirer story, I might not have thought very seriously about any of this myself, and simply shrugged and assumed that the PSPCA was telling the truth and acting properly myself.

Let me give you a tip on blogging, PB. One news story obviously supplied by one side to a pet reporter is not really a whole lot better than an informal account found in emails or bulletin boards. Evaluating either is likely require more than the testimony of a single source.

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Original story

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2 Feedbacks on "SPCA Outrage in Philadelphia 2: The PSPCA Strikes Back"

peggy knight

Do you have any background on the neighbor that started all this?



kathy diehl

this is such a shame! The hounds probably make noise,I know from living at the kennels with our pack (not bassets)
who got enthusiastic at times and downright melodic in the evening.If someone in the neighborhood did not like it they are free to move somewhere else!
I am sure the owners will find a way around this and get their hounds back.Best of luck to all.



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