Editor’s note: The following contains graphic material about animal abuse that may be upsetting to some readers.
The dog was huddled next to a trash bin at an apartment complex on Court Street in Lyncourt, barely recognizable. He wasn’t tawny or tan or black or gray; he was pink from mange. At 10 weeks old, he was all alone, abandoned by his owner. On July 12, the puppy was picked up by the Salina dog warden after he was reported wandering in the area and brought to the CNY SPCA, where his case of mange was deemed so severe that it amounts to animal cruelty.
It’s an all-too-common story here in Central New York, one we seem to be hearing more and more: animals are being abused, often in horrific ways. The pit bull, whom CNY SPCA staff have named Pinky, has such a severe case of mange that he has no hair on his body. Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites, common external parasites found in companion canines. Some mange mites are normal residents of a dog’s skin and hair follicles, while others are not. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they proliferate. This one had proliferated, all right.
“There’s just no excuse for that,” said Paul Morgan, executive director of the CNY SPCA. “You have to see there’s something wrong there and choose to ignore it.”
Is Pinky’s case, like the others before him, indicative of a larger problem in Central New York? Is there an epidemic of animal cruelty in the community?
If there is, Morgan said, it’s nothing new.
“What’s going on is that I’m trying to get it more in the public eye,” he said. “These cases have certainly been a wake-up call, but for us, it’s constant. I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and it’s just a constant problem. We’re constantly busy.”
In order to report an incidence of animal cruelty in Onondaga County, people can call the CNY SPCA at 454-3469, email the cruelty investigator at email@example.com, fill out an online cruelty report at cnyspca,org/animal_cruelty.htm or call 911. The agency received about 3,500 calls in 2011 and 1,623 so far in 2012.
“Those are just the calls we go out on, not all the calls we receive,” Morgan said. “A lot of those are more educational things that we can handle on the phone — people asking questions that they need answers to, so we don’t need to go out on those calls.”
There were 100 cases of animal abuse or neglect reported in 2010 in New York state alone, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Nationwide, the number is 1,106. Notably, these represent the reported cases. According to the Humane Society of the United States, most cases go unreported, though that is starting to change as public awareness grows. The numbers given by Morgan for 2011 and 2012 likely represent that shift.
The statewide breakdown is as follows: 36 reported cases of neglect/abandonment; 18 cases of hoarding; 15 beatings; seven shootings; four stabbings; three throwings; three thefts; three kickings/stompings; two cases of fighting; two cases of mutilation or torture; two cases of burning with fire or fireworks; one case each of bestiality, poisoning or drowning and two other unspecified cases of cruelty. In 63 percent of cases, the caregiver or owner was the alleged abuser.
New York had the highest number of animal beatings in the U.S. in 2010, according to Pet-Abuse.com, which compiles statistics from cruelty investigators across the nation. It’s also at the top of the list in hoarding and throwing, and near the top in kicking and stomping, neglect/abandonment and stabbing.
Overall, the most common types of abuse are neglect/abandonment, followed by hoarding, then shooting and fighting. Cats are most likely to be abused, followed by dogs.
Hoarding is a major problem in Central New York, Morgan said, though he didn’t attribute it to a malicious intent.
“Those overpopulation issues just get out of control,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s a psychological problem. They think they’re doing the right thing. I hate to destroy their reputation by putting their name in the paper, but I have to arrest them. It’s less a criminal thing and more of a psychological issue, I think, and more often than not, the DA agrees with me. When you have the issue with overpopulation, that’s clearly a psychological problem. No one in their right mind would think that 100 cats would fit in a 500 square foot apartment. That’s a problem. That’s a mental thing going on.”
The same is not true, however, in other cases.
“Sometimes, like in the case of the puppy with mange, you have people that are intentionally harming animals, and that’s just disgusting,” Morgan said. “There’s no excuse for that. That’s animal abuse, and people need to be held accountable for those actions.”
Pinky’s case is hardly an isolated incident. Another pit bull, 2-year-old Princess, made headlines last year when she was seized from her owner last November, weighing in at just 25 pounds. She should weigh close to 50 pounds. Wendy D. Collins, 32, of 1326 Oak St., was charged with failure to provide sustenance and failure to provide medical care to an animal, both misdemeanors. Collins pled guilty and was sentenced to three years’ probation, during which time she cannot own another pet. Fortunately, Princess recovered and was adopted by another family.
Other animals aren’t so lucky. In December, a pit bull had to be euthanized after he was chained to a silver Chevy Silverado pickup and dragged for several miles down Route 81. The dog suffered internal injuries and broken bones after the chain broke and the dog slammed into the guardrail several times near the Franklin Street exit ramp of I-81 South. The vehicle was driving at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. No arrests have been made.
“A lot of these cases are hard to prove,” Morgan said. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s people we’ve dealt with before. When you’re dealing with an injured animal, most of the time, we can go back in the past and it’s someone who has a history.”
New York state may soon have something to say about that; a law creating a registry for convicted animal abusers was proposed in the New York State Senate during this year’s legislative session. The law would require abusers to register annually, and ban them from owning or adopting any animal. Shelters and pet stores would also be required to check the registry when selling or adopting an animal. The registry, modeled after similar registries in Suffolk and Erie counties, was proposed by State Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo).
“Animal abusers are heinous people who hurt and kill animals that are incapable of defending themselves,” Grisanti said in April. “An individual who would hurt an animal should be punished severely, and this animal registry will ensure they are not able to own more possible victims of their future violence.”
Though the bill didn’t make it past the Senate, the proposal is still being discussed.
Drugs, dogs and disaster
In the meantime, in cities like Syracuse, the proliferation of drugs contributes to a culture where animal abuse is common.
“There are a lot of people around that [take part in] dogfighting and these situations where animals are being abused,” Morgan said. “It has a lot to do with drugs and that mentality. Drugs and dog fighting are a huge problem in the city. When they commit that type of crime [dog fighting], it’s a last minute thing. They’ll be doing drugs or selling drugs and just decide to do it. It all links back to drugs, the trafficking and everything else.”
There is an upside, as sad as it is; these high-profile cases help the CNY SPCA run its everyday operations.
“This is a horrible thing for me to say, but it’s a good way for us to bring in money to help these animals,” Morgan said. “When we get the word out about these animals, the donations start coming in. It keeps us going. It’s a sad statement, but it’s true. The sad news gets to people in the community. They hear about these horrible cases, and they want to do something, so they send in donations to us. That’s how we’re able to help these animals and all of the others that we care for.”
So Morgan said he will continue to publicize these cases, in the hopes of raising awareness about animal cruelty and the mission of the CNY SPCA. If he can continue to do that, maybe he won’t have to continue to witness the kinds of unspeakable acts he’s seen in the past. In the dozen years he’s been investigating animal abuse, Morgan said he’s seen things that have inured him to the baser aspects of the human condition.
“I had a case a while back where a guy was upset with his son, so he took the son’s turtle and tied a rope around the turtle’s neck, then tied the turtle to the back of his truck. Then he made the son watch while he dragged it down the road,” Morgan said. “Nothing amazes me anymore.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.