Police protect people, but day by day, it's the Humane Law Enforcement officers of the PSPCA, a nonprofit charity, that keep an eye out for furry Philadelphians.
On a recent, typical day of patrols, Officer Greg Jordan, 32, a seven-year veteran of PSPCA's Humane Law Enforcement, checked in on several calls of concern about potential abuse to animals at homes around North Philadelphia.
At one house where a neighbor had reported that they thought a dog wasn’t getting taken care of, as soon as Jordan steps up to the house – which has a large ‘Beware of Dog’ sign – the dog, a sizable pit bull, jumps at the door barking and snapping.
But the owner soon came out, and explained that he works a late shift and usually takes the dog out at night. He even invited Jordan inside to check the dog and see that it’s well-fed.
“There were no scars, Looked okay,” Jordan said after leaving the home. "Sometimes I open the door."
All the other homes, pet owners either bring out their pets or let Jordan in to take a look, which is usually a good sign.
"Sometimes I open the door and see 40 sets of eyes just staring back at me," Jordan.
All of the pet-owners Jordan visited on one patrol said the same thing after Jordan checked out their pets:
“Thank you. Thank you for what you do,” they all tell him.
Protecting the innocent
The PSPCA's humane officers handled 11,135 investigations in 2013 alone. They have a special legal charter that allows them to execute search warrants and seize animals in cases of neglect. Like regular police, they have to contact prosecutors to obtain warrants, which a judge must approve.
If animal cruelty is discovered at a home, PSPCA will sometimes post one officer at the home to wait out the hours while a warrant is obtained, to prevent the pet-owner from absconding with the animal and hiding the evidence.
In these cases, the questions are, “Is the owner willing to surrender? Or is it bad enough we need to obtain a search warrant and get them out of there as soon as possible?” Jordan explained.
In urgent cases, PSPCA can enter properties to remove the animals.
“If the animal’s dying or people are fighting dogs, that’s a felony, that’s something that has to stop immediately,” Jordan said.
Jordan, a former Fairmount Park ranger, has encountered everything ranging from neglect, to animal fighting, to hoarding.
“This winter, I went to a backyard and there’s this dog, chained to a fence, emaciated, freezing, making death moans,” he said of a case where it was discovered that the dog-owner had been in jail for days.
“It’s an intense job. It never stops. Philadelphia’s a wild city,” Jordan said.
Jordan and the PSPCA have seen some tough cases of in explicable abuse. In one, a cat was trapped in a microwave and thrown out a third floor window. Somehow, the cat lived, with just a bloody nose and a mild concussion.
In another, officers found a cat with its entire body wrapped in duct tape, except for the head. After officers got the named off, the cat was dubbed “Sticky” and was soon adopted.
There was also the infamous case of Campbell the cat, who was doused with accelerant and set on fire.
In that case, the arsonist, Tyrique Hall, was eventually sentenced to 11 and a half to 23 months in prison and ordered to pay about $2,300 restitution to cover the cat’s medical fees. Campbell was later adopted by the Fire Department’s Lt. Steven Paslawski and now has his own Facebook page.
“What was great about that case was everyone helped,” said Jordan, who worked the case. “If someone hadn’t made that initial call, we would’ve never known somebody lit that cat on fire or got a description of the suspects.”
“It’s a beautiful thing – that the public knows this is wrong, and knows to call us at 866-601-SPCA."