Lehigh County Humane Society hard to wake up
May 16, 2009
Until it has leaders who acknowledge all the problems, it never will move forward.
When the Lehigh County commissioners Wednesday night rejected funding for the Lehigh County Humane Society's animal control work, they were sending a couple of messages.
One, as articulated by Commissioners Dean Browning and Glenn Eckhart, was that the county shouldn't be sending money to such a well-heeled organization at a time when the county's fiscal situation is dire. They pointed out that the Humane Society's investment portfolio has grown to almost $1.8 million.
The other was that they're not crazy about the shelter's operations. ''I don't want tax dollars going to this facility,'' Eckhart said. He and others complained about the humane society's unwillingness to explore a no-kill approach, its lack of transparency and its euthanization methods.
Even the people who voted to give LCHS the budgeted $22,500 for its services went out of their way to make it clear they don't like what's happening there. Commissioners Percy Dougherty and Bill Leiner both said they hope this will be a ''wake-up call'' for the Humane Society's leaders.
My own feeling is that an atom bomb wouldn't wake those people up. I've been writing about their antiquated approach for years, to no effect, and there have been much more vociferous critics. If the commissioners are just figuring out that LCHS needs an overhaul, they haven't been paying attention.
The Kill vs. No Kill philosophical argument gets most of the attention, but that's never been my main focus. My complaint has been that the Humane Society won't take even the most basic steps toward reducing the need for euthanization of unwanted dogs and cats.
They would include: A comprehensive adoption program that includes convenient hours and an aggressive schedule of off-site adoptions. A comprehensive foster care program. A feral cat trap-neuter- return program. A high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter program. Cooperation with local rescue groups.
Outreach to the community to improve pet retention. In-house medical and behavior rehabilitation. A strong volunteer program. Aggressive public relations efforts.
LCHS has improved a bit in a few of these areas, but for the most part, it seems to run the same way it did years ago. Until it has leaders who acknowledge all the problems, it never will move forward.
My chiding has been too even-handed to suit some of the Humane Society's more rabid critics. But the group's leadership hasn't seen it that way. One of the oddities of the Pennsylvania SPCA's raid on Almost Heaven dog kennel in Upper Milford Township last Oct. 1 was that when LCHS Executive Director Bruce Fritch recognized me there, he went on a wild tirade. I had to lure him to a far corner so his ranting wouldn't turn up as background for the ''Animal Cops'' taping of the raid.
Beyond his complaints that my criticism has been unfair, Fritch was angry because people had posted insulting, even somewhat threatening, comments on the online version of my most recent column about LCHS. I let him scream himself out and tried to explain that I don't moderate -- or even read, in many cases -- the online comments. He wasn't buying it.
I was surprised to see Fritch there at all. It turns out that he wanted raiders to know the Humane Society was prepared to take in any dogs that were confiscated from Almost Heaven. Although he stayed there all day, the rescued dogs were driven to the PSPCA's shelter in Philadelphia.
In light of the Humane Society's history with Almost Heaven owner Derbe ''Skip'' Eckhart, it would have been an unlikely landing place in any event. Thanks to the connection between former LCHS cruelty investigator Orlando Aguirre and Eckhart, the Humane Society at one point was supplying dogs for Eckhart's controversial ''rescue'' operation. What's more, in his later capacity as a state dog warden, Aguirre helped keep Almost Heaven semi-respectable by issuing satisfactory inspection reports, particularly embarrassing in light of the horrible conditions found during the raid. Just six weeks before, a team of four dog law inspectors -- including Aguirre and new director Sue West -- gave the place a clean bill of health once again.
The discrepancy between the awful conditions and dog law's reports, including the role of Aguirre and other inspectors, has been the subject of a months-long investigation by the state Inspector General's Office.
There was a nice crowd of animal welfare people at Wednesday night's meeting, and many of the commissioners said encouraging things. Nevertheless, if any of this served as a real wake-up call for Bruce Fritch and company, I'll be surprised.
They're very sound sleepers.