A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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Tomorrow – June 9th – is my thirty-second birthday. This is only important to a small number of people, and rightly so. It is also the seventh anniversary of my association with the Humane Society (that’s right, I went to a job interview on my birthday.)

When my wife Laura and I talked about having a party on Saturday, I was adamant that guests not bring gifts. I’ve already got everything I could want: I have a great home, a wonderful family, and an ever-widening circle of friends, along with all the piles of things you accumulate in thirty two years.

I also have a great job doing what I love for people and animals – and it’s that part that really got me thinking. I’ve got a great life, so great that I can’t think of a single material thing I really need. But that places me in a small minority, and I learned that firsthand working here at the Humane Society.

When I started here as an animal control officer in 2005, I had never worked in animal welfare before, never experienced the cruel realities of poverty here in our own community. Add in the peculiarities of my personality and the effects of six years of military service, and I was completely out of touch with the problems people were facing every day here in Reading and Berks. And because I lacked understanding, I also lacked compassion. Luckily, I learned
that compassion here at the Humane Society.

I’ll never forget the homeless woman I met on Spring Garden whose scruffy Chihuahua rode in a dilapidated baby stroller while she collected cans to recycle. She and the dog slept in an abandoned house at night because she couldn’t take him into a homeless shelter.

I’ll always remember the gratitude and dignity of a retired Navy man in Jacksonwald to whom we regularly delivered dog food as part of our Ani-Meals on Wheels program. Prior to that, he’d shared his food with his old German Shepherd – and I bet the dog still got some choice bits afterward.

And maybe most of all of these, I can still see the faces of families reunited with pets we offered temporary housing after disasters. They had weeks or months of cleanup ahead and plenty of headaches to come, but they were together.

We couldn’t solve all of their problems, but I have watched the Humane Society help these people and thousands like them over the past seven years. And it may be selfish to consider this just as important, but they helped me too. I am not the person I was seven years ago, and while much of that is due to the superhuman patience and love of my wife Laura, I owe an incalculable debt to the Humane Society and to the people and animals we help everyday.

While I said at the beginning that I didn’t want gifts, I’ll ask you for one now if any of what I said made sense to you. Please make a donation to the Humane Society, whether it’s a monetary gift or a bag of dog food, or reserve a pass for the upcoming Pints for Pups. You’ll help us to continue the vital work that makes life just a little bit better for the people and animals we serve – and for me, too.

Thank you!




Did you get a chill? That might have been from the YouTube video posted with my cooperation and approval by Steve Hindi and SHARK explaining my view of why Pennsylvania’s pigeon shoots are, in fact, already illegal.

Arcane animal welfare policy fetishists may have followed the occasional tete-a-tete between the two of us over messaging in the past. Not on the message, but on the messaging. I’m not sure if older age has made me fierier or Steve cuddlier (in his emails he actually started asking people to be polite when they make calls now) but, either way, we are starting to find ourselves on the same side of the messaging and the message.

And that should terrify pigeon shooters, their political and law enforcement protectors, and the apologists of archaic displays of cruelty. When Mr. Moderate (me) and Mr. Not-So-Moderate (Steve) shake hands on something, watch out.

What we shook hands on this time was to make a concerted joint effort, with anyone who will work with us, to press the case of the illegality of pigeon shoots under current Pennsylvania law. The time for claiming that they are legal based on a lack of prosecution is over. They are being prosecuted, to the extent local DA’s will allow it and local Magisterial Justices will apply the letter of the law. Not bringing charges has never been evidence of the legality of an action. Especially when those with the power to allow it prevent or hamstring the attempts.

Such as local DA’s. One county DA forced animal cruelty charges to be withdrawn, not once but twice! This DA also happened to accept campaign donations from the pigeon shooters association. Fiery Steve would call this corrupt. Moderate me would only call this seriously suspect and grounds for recusal in the decision to prosecute. Another county DA has allowed charges to go forward but refused to allow the Humane Society Police Officer to retain an attorney, permitted under the law and common practice in cruelty cases, for the trial.

And where a local DA allows a case to go forward unimpeded, we have justices who make decisions based not on the law but on politics. A recent not guilty decision included- I do not lie- talking points that were word for word from the NRA’s talking points to supporters about pigeon shoots. Not a reference to the actual law, but NRA talking points. This hardly makes a case for legality. It makes a case for, at best, ignorance and, at worst, collusion and, yes, Steve, “corruption” might be a word that is in play.

Since my organization, Humane Society of Berks County, was one of the organizations which brought cruelty charges against a local pigeon shoot- recently abandoned as a fundraiser by the local sportsmen’s club and good on them- only to have them forcibly withdrawn by the local DA, I never had a chance to make our case for the illegality of pigeon shoots in open court. So, I’ll make it here, again. At length, again. Because despite NRA bulleted short lists, some things are complicated and take time and thought.

The Charge: Violation of PA 5511(C)(1): A person commits an offense if he wantonly or cruelly ill-treats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.

Some officers have gone for the second section above and made a case for the shelter and sustenance. We were going to make a case flatly on the bolded first portion. Launching hundreds of birds (or just one) from a trap and shooting them/it to flop around full of bird shot in agony to die slowly is the definition of wonton and cruel ill treatment. The action is wanton and cruel. J ’accuse!

The first immediate defense would be to ask the judge to find that this action is not wanton and cruel. That would be a stretch because one only needs to substitute another animal, let’s say a dog or a deer, for the pigeon. It would clearly be wanton and cruel in those cases. In fact, this situational cruelty is why the Cruelty Law actually specifies the circumstances in which it does not apply to clearly cruel actions. One can’t always simply say, “What if it was a dog?” We don’t hunt dogs. We don’t slaughter dogs for food. But those things are not cruelty under the law when we do it with deer or cows.

Therefore, to make the case that this isn’t an action in which we can simply swap out the animal being shot to determine the wonton cruelty of the action, the shooter must take a different approach and say, “Yes, the action would be cruel if a dog or a deer, but the law still allows me to do this cruel thing.” And the first point goes to me: Launching and shooting an animal is cruelty. Unless the judge wants to say it isn’t. Did I mention that Magisterial Justices in Pennsylvania are elected locally, don’t have to have a law degree (or any legal background), and are free to simply ignore the law and reality? So, I still might have lost right here, but I don’t think so.

Moving on. Having established that launching and shooting an animal is wanton cruelty; the defendant must present an affirmative defense or face conviction. In other words, why is this cruelty permitted under the law? And many cruelties are permitted under the law. I’ll run through them quickly, as we would have in court.

There are several defenses under PA 5511. It shall not apply to “the killing of any animal taken or found in the act of actually destroying any domestic animal or domestic fowl.” Unless these are killer pigeons, that one doesn’t work. “Reasonable activity as may be undertaken in connection with vermin control or pest control,” is another defense. I’ve never seen rats rounded up, transported across state lines, and used in trap shots by Orkin. I think that one is a loser, too. Self-defense is another clear legal defense. Except I’m unaware of the need to defend oneself against anything but pigeon poop. Loser. How about “activity undertaken in normal agricultural operation.” This is an old favorite of puppy millers but it hardly applies to pigeon shoots. None to these exclusions apply and none are a valid defense against the charge of wanton cruelty.

There is one more defense laid out in the law and this is the one which receives a glancing argument by pigeon shooters. It’s the one which apologists fall back on. But it does not hold up any better than the others if you actually read the law. PA 5511 does not apply to “the killing of any animal or fowl pursuant to the act of June 3, 1937 (P.L. 1225, No. 316), [FN2] known as The Game Law…” In other words, if it’s legal hunting under the law, it’s legal. Even if it’s cruelty.

This is the argument which worked on me when I first came to Berks County. Someone told me pigeon shoots were protected under game code and I took that at face value. I had never looked up to see first-hand that deer hunting was legal, so why would I bother with pigeon shoots? Except I don’t get cruelty calls about deer hunting the way I do pigeon shoots and finally, after a friend in the business told me that they weren’t covered by game code or regulation, I read the game code. It’s long. I read the game regulations, rules, seasons, and bag limits. My friend was right, it wasn’t covered. But my friend wasn’t a cruelty officer and I was. And that made me realize that this wasn’t a matter of ambiguity. These shoots, if not protected by game code, were completely illegal.

The Game Code says “The commission shall promulgate such regulations as it deems necessary and appropriate concerning game or wildlife and hunting or furtaking in this Commonwealth.” So, even the words “it’s OK to have pigeon shoots” isn’t in the law- and it isn’t- the Game Commission has the authority to make it legal through regulation. That means we only need to go to the PA Game Commission’s Hunting Seasons and Bag Limits to see what the rules are for what animals may be hunted, how many, when, and in what way. It’s a comprehensive list including deer, muskrats, crow, groundhogs, bear, you name it. Pigeons are not on the list but a very important sentence is included: “No open season on other wild birds or mammals.” That means that if it’s not on the list, it can’t be hunted. Period.

Pigeon shoots are not hunting under Pennsylvania’s Game Code or promulgated regulations. But wait! I hear you lurking shooters reading this getting indignant and thinking, “We never said this was hunting, it’s a trap shoot at private clubs! We don’t need no stinkin’ regulations or permits!” Au contraire, mon frere, you very much do. The Game Code, 34 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2928(a), allows that releases and shoots at “Regulated hunting grounds require a minimum of 100 acres of land, or land and water combined, on which the permittee must release one of the following species of domestically produced game birds: namely, ringneck pheasants, bobwhite quail or mallard ducks. Any of the listed species and chukar partridges may be released only if they are listed on the permit application and propagated by the permittee or received from a legal source.” Not pigeons. There is no game code protection.

The case is simple: Shooters are charged with the wanton cruelty of shooting pigeons and piling them up to die a slow death. The defense must show that this cruelty is exempt from prosecution because it is protected under a provision or PA law. Self-defense, normal agricultural practice, pest control, animal control, protecting other wildlife, and game code and game regulations do not provide any defense against the charge. In an absence of a defense and in light of both the specific letter and totality of the law addressing the dispatch of animals in Pennsylvania, a judge has no choice but to convict. That’s assuming the judge actually follows the law when this case in made before the court. Guilty, guilty, guilty!

There are a couple extremely easy ways for shooters to make these shoots legal. Get the Game Commission to change the regulations to allow for hunting pigeons without a season or bag limit. My guess is that the change would have to be overturned by legislation. HSBC would cease our yammering about pigeons because the activity, while loathsome, would be legal. Or they could go the route of direct legislation and make shoots expressly legal, as the anti-shoot folks are similarly seeking a legislative remedy by making them expressly illegal. I’ve already suggested two bills which would go head to head. One allows, one bans. Let’s see who votes for what and which would win.

But until then, HSBC will stick with our legal position that pigeon shoots are already illegal under the law and that there is no legal defense under the law. The only defense is from the shooters’ cronies who block the rightful application of Pennsylvania law in our courts.

On that, Steve and I agree 100%.


The recently proposed White Amendment, which would have given Pennsylvania’s taxpayers a small, capped, one-time tax credit for adopting a shelter pet, fell short of passage by one vote. In a House with a sizable Republican majority, this is actually remarkable since the amendment, proposed by a Democrat, would need not only his party’s vote, but Republican support, too.

The White Amendment managed to get that cross-aisle support, which included the support of John Maher, Republican candidate for Auditor General and hardly an economic liberal. Among others, it also got the support of Mike Tobash, unapologetic supporter of pigeon shoots and hardly a bleeding heart animal activist. Apparently these two diverse Republicans recognized something that the majority of their colleagues did not: The White Amendment wasn’t just about dogs and cats. It was also about the economy!

If dogs wanted a tax credit they should have timed the stock market better!

Tax credits are created for a reason. They are intended to incentivize something which is good for the community. In this case the shallowest of views might have been that this was just about the 25,000 adopters who would have been eligible to receive this tax credit if they adopted a shelter pet. As an animal welfare advocate, that’s a good enough reason for me. But I can see how some might not think that’s enough of a reason to modify tax policy.

But I’m also the CEO of a non-profit corporation which employs over 30 Pennsylvania tax payers. That part of me is mad as hell this didn’t pass because a less shallow view would have seen that the White Amendment was really about jobs and economic development. It was about the economy, stupid! While some of our elected officials run around pandering to us about the need for a tax policy which supports business and how we need to support manufacturing, gas drilling, millionaire job creators, and the like, they seem to have forgotten that the single biggest employment sector in Pennsylvania is the one animal shelters belong to: the non-profit sector.

One in eight Pennsylvania jobs is provided by the non-profit sector, the largest of any other sector of the employment market. It’s one in eight when you take away the second largest employer, government. That’s more employees with quality jobs than any of the other sectors which our officials want to tout as being so “vital” to our economy. That’s more tax payers who support our government and economy. And the money spent in these non-profit businesses stays right here in Pennsylvania rather than being funneled to parent corporations in other states or even other nations.

I’m not saying these officials shouldn’t support other industries, too; in fact we all need to be successful if any of us are to be truly successful. However, many of the Representatives who voted against the White Amendment seems to have forgotten, if they ever knew, that it is organizations like ours which are the true job creators in Pennsylvania. We deserve the economic boost this amendment would have delivered and it would have made a very real difference to our employees and their families and to the overall economy.

The majority of the Representatives who voted against this Amendment don’t seem to have a problem with voting for tax credits for millionaires in the name of “job creation”. Nearly all supported the years’ long tax holiday given to natural gas drillers and the eventual passage of one of the lowest severance taxes in the nation, all in the name of economic development. I don’t fault them for doing that if they really thought it was the right thing to do. I do fault their inconsistency, however, when they choose to reward millionaires and Texas energy companies but vote against a tiny tax credit which would have benefited pets, Pennsylvania tax payers, and employers like HSBC.

So, if they don’t have a problem with tax credits, I can’t help but wonder why they seem to have a problem with Pennsylvania’s real job creators, its average tax payers, and our dogs? Maybe they should consider taking another bite out of this apple and passing the White Amendment.


Yesterday I had a nice meeting with someone I had not seen in a while.  To be honest, we didn’t part of the chummiest of terms.  This person was around when I first came to HSBC nearly eight (really, eight?!) years ago and we went our separate ways in part over some of the major changes here which I brought about.  And maybe a little because I was slightly less lovable eight years ago than I am now.  Now I just giggle like the Snuggle Bear when you poke my belly.

This person reminded me of a question which had been asked at one of my job interviews.  I was asked, “If you become executive director, are you going to make a lot of changes?”  My answer was, “Yes.”  Actually, I think I said I expected that if I was still here in a few years- and before I even had the job I figured my tenure would either be six months or six years and I wouldn’t have given good odds on six years- the Humane Society of Berks County would be unrecognizable.

You can say a lot of things about me but you can’t say I didn’t tell the God’s honest truth.  Eight years later we are nearly unrecognizable from the organization I joined.  From the foundation created by Lindy Scholar and her board, we have actually made the leaps which the people who hired me said they wanted to make.  We have created services and programs which help more animals than ever.  We are a recognized leader in program and service innovation.  We have miraculously dragged ourselves out of the ever looming hole of fiscal collapse and bankruptcy.  We are a model of what animal welfare and animal sheltering should be, not just in 2012, but a model for the decades to come.

Of course, making wishes sometimes gets you results you didn’t foresee.  There’s a reason that the lesson of the genie in the bottle story is to throw it back in the water.  There were more than a few who didn’t like the transformation that began to occur eight years ago, despite wishing for it.  In some ways we gave birth to a whole new organization and, being father of three daughters, I know how hard a process that can be, even when you aren’t the person doing the hard labor.  Like kids, you don’t know what you’re going to get when you recreate an organization.

After eight years we have become what we sought to be: bigger, better, and stronger.  Like the person I met with yesterday in an attempt to mend fences (or at least straighten a couple fence posts), I hope those who didn’t like the direction their genie’s wish took them will at least be able to see that we are now, in fact, bigger, better, and stronger.  With any luck, in a very short while we will be even biggerer, betterer, and strongerer.  And even less recognizable.  Keep tuned to this Bat Station for more on that soon.

Fred Eaglesmith says that a man doesn’t grow up ‘till he’s forty odd years old.  I don’t know if it’s that or if we have simply gotten as far at HSBC as fighting will take us (or was required).  Either way, I’m taking some pleasure in the fence mending I’ve been able to do with others who are of a like mind to do so, especially since its good for our work at HSBC.  I hope they’ll be joined by a few others who might have parted ways with slightly bigger grudges.

C’mon, back, y’all.  You know you want to poke my tummy and hear me giggle.


(Guest blog by Jenny Stephens, North Penn Puppy Mill Watch)

At long last, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement’s Advisory Board will meet on April 25, 2012 from 1 to 4PM in room 309 at the PA Department of Agriculture building located at 2301 Cameron Street in Harrisburg, PA.

More than a year has passed since the Board last convened; a breach of the Bureau’s own regulations that requires “regular” meetings.  In 2009 – and in years previous – the Board met four times a year; in 2010, there were two Board meetings however in 2011 not one meeting was held.

In stark contrast, both a lot and nothing have transpired since the last meeting in 2010 and, applicable to both, nothing positive for the dogs has been accomplished.  The Bureau is on the verge of bankruptcy; the new Dog Law enacted in 2008 is not being enforced; commercial breeding kennels are not being inspected and some have not been visited in over a year; an assortment of open positions exists within the Bureau… a Bureau that’s not even called a “bureau” anymore but is now referred to as an “office” and the list goes on.

In case you’re wondering, the Dog Law Advisory Board consists of 25 members:

(1) The secretary or his designee, who shall act as chairman.
(2) A representative of animal research establishments.
(3) A representative of a statewide veterinary medical association.
(4) Two representatives of animal welfare organizations*
(5) Three representatives of farm organizations, with one from each statewide general farm organization
(6) A representative of dog clubs.
(7) A representative of commercial kennels.
(8) A representative of pet store kennels.
(9) A representative of sportsmen.
(10) A representative of a national purebred canine pedigree registry.
(11) A representative of lamb and wool growers.
(12) A county treasurer.
(13) A representative of hunting-sporting dog organizations.
(14) A representative of the police.
(15) A representative of boarding kennels.
(16) Seven members representing the general public who are recommended by the Governor

*In this instance, “animal welfare organizations” refers to open access shelters – shelters that employ a humane society police officer and accepts all surrendered animals as well as animals running at large versus private rescues.

As you can plainly see, the deck is stacked against those who advocate for canines.  With only two members out of 25 representing the advocacy community, it’s not hard to understand why little headway is ever made to address issues that would benefit the puppy mill dogs, the homeless dogs, the neglected, abused, tethered and stray dogs.  In fact, when you look at the other seats on the Board, it’s obvious they are pro-breeding in an era when Pennsylvania is facing a dog overpopulation predicament.

Sadly, PA advocates recently lost its strongest voice on the DLAB:  Nancy Gardner, President of the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, PA.   Ms. Gardner was advised, via correspondence, that her term on the Board had ended and was thanked for her services; sadly, she was never asked if she wished to retain her seat or bring her years of expertise to a largely new Board formed under the Corbett administration.  Nancy’s absence from the Board represents a tremendous loss to advocates and she will be sorely missed.

In fact, many replacements have supposedly been made and several of these individuals – while having experience in their particular field – have little to no experience with Pennsylvania’s Dog Law or the statewide problems that plague the canine advocacy community..

If you’ve never attended a Dog Law Advisory Board meeting, and they are open to the public, it tends to be… and please pardon the pun, a dog and pony show.  Members of the public may observe and, if time allows, short commentary is permitted but only after the Board has concluded its business.

Wednesday’s meeting should prove quite interesting as new members to the Board will be introduced and tremendous discussion pursuant to the Bureau’s current financial state is anticipated.

Another FYI in case you weren’t aware, the Bureau is funded by three streams of revenue:  the licensing of dogs by private dogs owners, the sale of kennel licenses, and the receipt of up to $69,000 pursuant to the issuance of fines for infractions of the Dog Law.

According to Bureau of Dog Law’s Michael Pechart, close to $500,000 in fines was generated in 2009 however only $69,000 ended up in the Dog Law Restricted Account with the balance going to the Commonwealth.  The $69,000 figure is the maximum the Bureau is permitted to retain.  Additionally, the account’s not really “restricted,” is it, considering the Commonwealth helped itself to several million during the Rendell administration to “balance the budget” and those funds were never replaced… funds that were supposed to be used to enforce the law and protect dogs.

With many ideas sure to be brought to the table to increase revenue at Wednesday’s meeting, hopefully discussion will include the introduction of legislation to address why the Bureau is not permitted to retain the funds it generates by enforcing the law and collecting fines from those who break it.

Unfortunately, it’s predicted that plans to boost revenue will fall squarely on the public via increased license fees.  For decades private dog owners have funded Dog Law and instead of utilizing these funds appropriately, the money, for all intents and purposes, has been misappropriated and stolen.  To ask the public to come to the rescue of this Bureau and remain the primary source of revenue when the Bureau isn’t doing its job is simply ridiculous.  If individual dog license prices are to be increased, so too should kennel license fees, especially when you consider the many problems created by those who exploit dogs for profit.

Pennsylvania regulations mandate the existence of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and, despite many recent changes that fall far short of complying with actual regulations, it would appear that the sky’s the limit insofar as how far and long the Corbett administration will allow this agency to make up the rules as it goes along.

Without a fully functioning Bureau of Dog Law, Pennsylvania faces a serious canine crisis and cracks in the foundation are already apparent.  State representatives and senators need to understand and contemplate the impact the demise of Dog Law will have upon their constituents and local regions and move toward enacting a more equitable distribution of the funds generated by the collection of fines by those who disregard the law.

As advocates, prepare to brace yourselves.  The storm clouds on the horizon are quickly approaching and it’s likely to be raining cats and dogs in the very near future.


We’ve had a week or two of simmering down from the hyperbolic extremes of learning that SB 1329, the gas chamber ban bill, passed unanimously in the Senate only to find that, after years of hard work and horse trading by everyone with even a peripheral interest in the matter to construct a strong, useful bill, virtually everything was stripped from it.

On seeing the, and with apologies to Andy, as much as I’d like to say “streamlined” the only appropriate word is, gutting of the bill, my reaction was like most who had been working to get it passed, and with double apologies for using a vulgar text-world colloquialism, “WTF?!”  Rants were had all around.  In the end, we have what we have, and it is a rarity in some ways.  We have the purest of bills which does precisely one thing and one thing only: it bans the use of gas chambers for euthanasia in shelters, animal control facilities and vet offices in Pennsylvania.

We can bemoan it some more- and believe me, I did my share of moaning- or we can make the most of a bad situation.  And while we’re at it, we can put to the test the supposed “small government” convictions which have reportedly brought us to this version of the bill.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

The situation would seem pretty cut and dry.  Reportedly, the Governor’s office will not sign anything which requires additional fees or regulation, even when the industry being regulated is literally begging for it like the animal welfare community is.  That explains the stripping of all the well-crafted measures to allow for direct licensing of animal shelters so that shelters can directly purchase the correct euthanasia drugs, without needing to bow and scrape to a local vet if they don’t have one on staff, just like 17 other states allow.

I’m yet to see anyone go on the record supporting gas chambers.  That would explain the unanimous Senate passage of the “streamlined” bill.  Who in their right political mind wants to vote for gas chambers?   By voting it out of their chamber, the Senators have handed the hot potato to their House peers.

This is where it gets interesting.  We now have a bill which has nothing in it which the Governor or anyone else, except maybe the gas chamber manufacturing lobby, can object to.  No new fees.  No new regulations.  No DEA issues (even if the ones raised were utterly bogus).  Farmers can still do whatever they want.  The NRA can crow that they have protected the time honored tradition of being able to shoot your own dog (somebody cue the end of Old Yeller and raise the flag).  The only thing in this bill is a ban on gas chambers to euthanize pets in the remaining three or four places which use them in the entire state.  Who could possibly object to this?

For starters, I think a few people assumed people like me in the animal welfare community would.  As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”  You will find no opposition from us.  For years there was concern by the sheltering community that a lack of access to the right euthanasia drugs might result in shelters with gas chambers simply closing their doors following a ban, causing a worse situation for animals.  Guess what? While we’d like to see a direct licensing option, the vast majority, if not all, in our community have been saying what I’ve been saying: We would like direct licensing but we demand a ban no matter what and no strings attached if it’s the best we can get.  No one can make the claim that we are stopping them from voting for a ban and getting it signed into law.  It is simply not true.

Better yet, there are several of us on the record saying we will personally and organizationally provide the resources and oversight to any shelter using a gas chamber and which has no alternative to allow them to switch to the right euthanasia techniques.  It will cost us money as a charity- and that’s the dirty little secret of all these cuts and “no new fees or taxes” rules, they just shift the cost to local government and charities- but we’ll get the money to do it.  Better yet, there are a few very clever ideas out there, and I know Senator Dinniman has them, which would not only address these concerns without spending a dime of public money, but might even be to the government’s benefit.

There is nothing in this bill which will violate agriculture rights or gun rights or any Grover Norquist anti-tax pledges. There is no reason not to pass this bill in the House.  None.  Unless the leadership in the House supports gas chambers.  If it passes in the House there is no reason for the Governor not to sign it.  Unless he supports gas chambers.

A couple weeks ago I questioned the courage of our elected officials in my anger and frustration.  Perhaps that was harsh.  They can demonstrate that courage right now by scheduling a vote in the House, passing the bill, and getting it signed into law.  They can show that they don’t stand behind an artifice of high minded governmental ethics which serves only to allow more pets to die in gas chambers.

Leaders of the House and Governor Corbett, Senator Dinniman did his part, along with the rest of the Senate who voted for this bill unanimously.  Schedule SB 1329 for a vote in the House now.  Pass SB 1329 now.  Sign SB 1329 into law now.

Please do it now.


Want your State Representative to vote for SB 3129 now?  Tell them so.  Click here to find your Representative’s contact information.


You may think the important election in Pennsylvania is the general election in November. You would be wrong. Thanks to the endless cycle of partisan carving up of districts, the vast majority of elections are decided in primary elections, not in the general election.

While you hear a lot about challenges to the electoral maps between the parties, don’t think these fights are about making races fairer or more competitive. The intent of redistricting is to first ensure the biggest margin for the majority party- and both parties do this when they get the chance. The second intent, and the way in which the party in power gets the votes it needs from the minority party to pass these new districts, is to preserve the existing seats of current legislators.

If you looked at the recent court overturned redistricting effort, you’ll note that while it would have improved the chances for Republicans across the board (they are, after all the majority so it is their turn to rig the game), they very carefully strengthened the election chances of several Democrats by consolidating Democratic strongholds in certain areas. Why would the party in power do this? Because it plays to the desire to maintain incumbency. If they do it in a place the Democrat would likely have won anyway, they lose nothing.

But they gain a vote in support of the redistricting plan. Want to make a wild guess which minority party legislators voted in support of the majority party’s redistricting plan? Just look at which minority legislators would find themselves with an easier election under the new plan. I think you’ll find a higher than normal vote in support for the other party. There may be two parties in Harrisburg but there is one big club: the incumbents. And they all want to make sure they get to stay in the clubhouse.

That is why, even in “landslide” turnover years, the incumbent election rates tend to be well over 80% in the past few decades. Once you’re in, you’re in. Once a district is controlled by a party, it tends to stay controlled by that party. So if you want to know who is going to win the election in your district, chances are it is the candidate already in office or at least of the party which most recently held the office.

That means that if you want to make a change in Harrisburg or Washington, you need to make it in the Primary Election. It is statistically the most likely time you will have any chance of actually impacting who will be elected (assuming you are also registered in the party which holds the election advantage in that district).

And that means if you care about animal welfare, you need to cast your vote very deliberately for the candidate of your choice on April 24th.

As a 501c3 non-profit organization, HSBC cannot (and doesn’t want to) endorse or oppose any candidate. There are other organizations which can do that and we encourage you to speak to candidates about the issues, research many sources, and make up your own mind (one source, another source, find your own source). What we can do and like to do is advocate for positions and legislation which will benefit the animals and people in Pennsylvania. We can also let you know when a legislator has made a good, bad, or ugly decision when it comes to animal welfare policy. All too frequently we are stuck with sharing the bad and the ugly because we do not have enough elected officials who either see the value of strong animal welfare laws or have too many who don’t have the courage to stand up against powerful anti-animal welfare lobbies. Some simply pander to us and won’t follow through after being elected.

On April 24th you can help change that. You can help get a sensible anti-tethering bill passed. You can help get the pigeon shoots banned. You can help restore funding to the Office of Dog Law Enforcement. You can help ensure that Dog Law enforces the few laws which were passed recently to make life better for animals. You can help ensure that a gas chamber ban passes without the cynical cuts included in the bill now.

You can do these things by ensuring that whatever candidate you vote for in either or any party in this primary election is a strong animal welfare candidate. You can help to ensure that in the general election, no matter which party will win the district thanks to the electoral rigging, both candidates are strong animal welfare candidates. That way the animals win no matter who wins.

Finally, once you have helped elect a candidate, hold him or her accountable. If a candidate says he will do things and he doesn’t, demand answers and if you don’t get them, remember the betrayal of your trust in the next primary election in two or four years.

On April 25th we’ll know what animals can expect in Harrisburg because the general election winners will already have been chosen. You must make sure that it’s a win for animals.


If you made it through high school, there’s a good chance you took a Miller’s Analogies test. It required you to select from a list of pairs of words which bear the best relation to another pair of words. A is to B as X is to _____. For example:

A. wicked : insinuate
B. strict : pamper
C. willful : heed
D. clever : eradicate
E. lazy : shirk

The answer is E. This is not a test of antonym or synonym recognition. It requires thought, not a mental list of definitions, because it requires an analysis of context, meaning and relationship.
This test came to mind today because I noted that two words which on some levels can be analogous have started to become synonymous and that led me to reflect on ways in which that has occurred in my professional world of animal welfare. The two words were “humanism” and “atheism”. Humanism and atheism are not synonymous one their face, yet they are increasingly so in their expression and perception, even to the point of being able to find contextually vastly different definitions.

Humanism’s most ubiquitous definition is that it is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity are taken to be of primary importance and is unrelated and independent of religion or deity. We should do right (or wrong or anything) because of our own choices, thoughts, or ethics, not because of the intervention or edicts of religion or a deity. This is an affirmative belief system which can exist regardless of any other belief system.

However, various other definitions offer a subtle but profound skewing of this and refer to humanism as a denial of the divine. That is, of course, the exact definition of atheism and it is a negative belief system which calls for the negation of any belief in the divine. Atheists seek to deny the undeniable just as deists seeks to affirm the unaffirmable.

This conflating of the two definitions is seen in the advertising campaigns of the American Humanist Association’s advertising campaigns which employ slogans such as “Why believe in God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” But dragging that conflict into an arena which does not require it is a highjacking the analogous in an effort to create the synonymous.

This is exactly where things started to seem very familiar in an animal context. They do not say, “You don’t have to believe in God to be good,” or “My good is just as good as your good.” They are advocating that the belief in God is in itself a problem, as if the good end has been tainted by the means by which it was attained, even if the attained good ends are identical. This is the perversity of requiring synonymity to define intent. I have on more than one occasion attended fundraising workshops and classes and heard a variation of this question: Does it matter if a donor makes a gift for a tax write off or a because of a deep, true belief in our mission? The answer, if the sole end is the good the donation will do, is that it does not matter at all.

Nevertheless, I can always count on at least one person who will make an agitated case that it does matter and that the pure hearted donation is somehow inherently superior. It even generally possible to steer that person into a corner at which they will actually say a strictly profit motivated donation should be refused. Granted, these are not always deep thinkers. But there is a tendency to suspect motives other than the ones we believe should be driving a decision, even if the result is the same.

I believe this is the reason that so many people very nearly plead with me to say HSBC is “No Kill”. I certainly could- God knows places with much worse save rates than our routinely do. We regularly hit the very qualified target of 90% save rates from month to month. Functionally, we have attained the end sought by “No Kill” acolytes. These same masters of lemma will applaud the “No Kill” intent of agencies which are patently failing at the reaching the end, but which are failing to get there via a preferred theological avenue. Our organization on the other hand tends to be viewed with suspicion for not laying claim to both the end and the means.

Why don’t we? We don’t because in this case we are, if you’ll forgive the cobbling of concepts, “Animal Welfare Humanists”. We are arriving at the desired end not through a religious zeal to get here or by commandment of a prophet, we have made conscious choices based on our values and ethics which can exist outside the narrow constraints of the “No Kill” meme.

As importantly, we know that our success rides on the back of the struggles of others and of others’ choices. We have decreased euthanasia of feral cats by essentially refusing to accept them knowing that we will euthanize them and instead refer the public to feral cat advocacy groups. This limits the options available to the public. It’s good for the cats, but there is more to it than simply saying, “We succeed in not killing feral cats”. Our ability to hold animals for extended periods of time without facing a space crisis is the result of us dropping our dog catching and municipal euthanasia contracts and other groups having made the decision to take them on, along with thousands of animals which used to come to us.

The end result is that we hover right around “No Kill” rates despite not being strictly limited admission. While we can claim more than a little credit for having made strong decisions which are ethically defensible, we must also recognize that some of our good fortune is as much our doing as my fortune to be born white in modern America rather than Cambodian under the Khmer Rouge was due to some cleverness of my own and not sheer luck. Yes, we’ve made the most of the situation and made more of it than most but we started with a leg up. To pretend otherwise is like Donald Trump leaving out the part about being born to a real estate tycoon worth $200,000,000. It’s the little omissions which allow the camel through the eye of the needle with greater ease than us.

We got where we are though a lot of hard work, serious thought, and a little luck. Not because we are “chosen” or followed the hallowed path. And that is where this whole thing ties itself up in a neat little bow. Atheistic Humanism would devalue goodness derived from belief in deity. “No Kill” purists often devalue goodness attained via an animal welfare world view other than their own. The end may be identical and the means similar or analogous- especially to an outsider- but each side places a lower value on the identical results of the other.

“Yes, you may have tended to the sick because you thought it was the right thing to do, but I did it because my Holy book told me so, so I’m going to Heaven and you’re not.” Or, conversely, “I tended the sick of my own free will and you did it because you were compelled by your fake deity, making you a puppet to your faith.” Is it the problem of being compelled which causes the denialism of some?

There is a classic science fiction story, The Giving Plague, about a virus which makes everyone altruistic and the protagonist is a horrible human being who chooses to sacrifice himself to save others, despite being free of the virus, simply to prove he acts of his own free will and has not been compelled by an outside influence. In the end, it only mattered to him.

There is a middle way, they way of saying we don’t care why you do what you do, as long as it’s the right thing. Make a donation for the love of animals, for a tax break, or to curry a date with cute, single Development Director. It might matter to your everlasting soul, if there is one, but the good deed is the same. Hell, we’ll even help you to find whatever reason you need to do that good deed. We’re like philosophical honey badgers: we don’t care.

By the same token, “No Kill” fundamentalist claims which can be explicitly proven to be false, devious, or puerile should be presented as faith, not fact. We know that faith allows for belief in the unbelievable and even the utterly ridiculous. I will allow any Bible literalist to pick and choose which passages they want to accept literally while ignoring the admonitions against eating pork or shellfish or the designation of a man who offers up his daughters for mob rape being deemed “righteous”. Hey, it’s your belief system, think what you want. But don’t expect me to think it too because your book or belief in animals’ rights leads you to embrace not only the unaffirmable but the patently false.

Again, the why doesn’t matter at all. Who really has skin in a game of telling anyone that he can’t do good as well as she can because the good wasn’t done with a pure heart, or was done believing something stupid, or because we used different language or are a different color or a different political party? There are plenty of ways to devalue the good done by others. They are all beside the point. We need to do good because good needs to be done. Ends is to Why as Good is to Who the Hell Cares?

I’m not sure that analogy actually works but please take my intended meaning on faith.


The next time you balk at hearing a politician say that he or she voted for a crappy bit of legislation because it was better than nothing, remember the Gas Chamber ban and have a little sympathy.

Swallowing the gutted SB 1329 may be about as palatable as those semi-incubated duck eggs they make people eat for TV ratings but it is better than nothing.  Our legislators had a chance to pass a bill which would elevate the welfare of animals in Pennsylvania.  Instead, thanks reportedly to a Governor who thinks the only good government is a dead government, we have to make a decision.  Is it better to have shelters face turning animals away to face a potentially worse death on the street or to continue to allow gas chambers?

The answer is, of course, obvious.  We must ban gas chambers.  Now is the time since we have a bunch of freaked out legislators who are uncertain of the political winds and who all need a win which will let them crow about helping pets and get their picture taken with dogs.  Like the Puppy Mill bill, it has a chance to pass overwhelmingly because few, if any, will want to be on the wrong side of this landslide.  Since it is a law which will cost the government nothing and once again places all the cost and burden on charities, the Governor should sign it with glee.

The various factions will probably even get their way and avoid any explicit language stating that this law applies to commercial kennels.  They say that wording in other laws makes it “unnecessary”.  Of course, that never stops them from demanding such wording if they think it will pose a risk to hunting, guns, or food production, even when the same wording should make it unnecessary then, too.  If the clarification is such a non-issue, why the opposition to it?  I guess what is good for shooting the goose isn’t good for saving the gander.  We’ll wait and see how long it takes Joe Puppy Farmer to gas or shoot a dog and point to this in his defense.

However, passing it doesn’t mean we need to be happy about how we got here or the fact that we elect politicians to do hard work and make hard decisions, not kick the can down the road for the next class to pay for or the one after that.  Like most “no cost” options, the cost will simply get passed along to county and local government and to us.  Harrisburg has been making plenty of cuts lately.  Have your taxes gone down?

It’s always been easy for the Humane Society of Berks County to support this ban, even in its current bad form.  We have veterinarians, we have access to the right drugs, and we don’t have animal control contracts so we aren’t drowning in animals that will face euthanasia simply because there is no more room at the inn.  But we also have empathy and we know that we can’t just support things that are easy or good for us without making sure we help those who are not as fortunate.

Harrisburg had the chance to do that and they failed.  So, go ahead, pass SB 1329 and pass it swiftly.  But don’t expect a pat on the back for doing the very least you could have done for animals instead of the most.

No, legislators, we won’t balk when you say it’s the best you could get. We know what a limited commodity courage is these days. You have our deepest sympathies for your loss.


I call Harrisburg’s bluff.

I’ve seen enough of politics to know that demonstrations of legislative bravery on the part of politicians are more likely a sign that there was no real danger in the first place. Like a courageous vote in support of “freedom” or loving our grandmas. When we see unanimity, it’s all too often a sign of bipartisan collusion to support something which has 100% public approval or has 100% no chance of actually passing for one reason or another.

So when the Gas Chamber Bill, SB 1329, was bravely passed by a unanimous Senate vote this week, I had a sense something wasn’t right. When I read the gutted bill, I knew something stunk to high heaven. The bill which passed was a shell of the bill which had been introduced. And its utter lack of content explained exactly how it passed with no opposition.

The original SB 1329 did not just ban gas chamber euthanasia. It did the heavy lifting of addressing the reasons that there are still any animal shelters and animal control facilities using this antiquated and inhumane method.

The Brave Face of Small Government in the Face of Animal Cruelty

Gas chambers are rarely used in shelters by choice. They are used because some shelters don’t have access to the veterinary license required to obtain the industry standard drugs used to perform humane lethal injection. Not every shelter is fortunate enough to have a vet on staff. Many are in rural communities where local vets are few and far between, and not always willing to simply “give” a shelter access to their license for a variety of reasons, such as liability concerns. These shelters feel that using gas chambers, which are unbelievably not, I repeat, are not, considered inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical Society, are better than no option at all.

While I personally feel that if you can’t use the best industry practice, humane lethal injection, for euthanasia you should close your doors, I also know that very good and humane animal welfare professionals have a moral conviction that a less desirable method of euthanasia is preferable to starving, freezing, being shot, or being hit by cars. I also know that most would absolutely prefer to make use of the best, most modern means of euthanasia and decommission those antiquated death chambers.

The original SB 1329, which had gone through years of horse trading between the veterinary lobby, the agriculture lobby, the animal sheltering lobby, the anti-gas chamber advocates, finally cobbled together the elements of an effective and smart bill. It banned the use of gas chamber euthanasia in most cases. Animal shelters, animal control facilities and private vet practices would be banned from using them. However, a system of direct drug licensing, used in 17 other states, for shelters and animal control facilities would be created. The state pharmacy board would create guidelines for drugs and their purchase, along with training requirements for non-veterinarian euthanasia technicians, to allow those few currently non-licensed facilities to purchase and safely use the appropriate drugs and techniques to euthanize animals.

It appeared that everyone could be on the same page. All the parties even offered up some wiggle room here and there to ensure that a good bill didn’t fail because it wasn’t perfect to all. This was the chance for bravery and unanimity.

As is so often the case, 1329 faced a death of a thousand amendments. Maybe private vets should be exempted (although not a single vet was asking for that to my knowledge). Maybe “aggressive” animals should be exempt (as if it’s easier to get Cujo into a little metal box than walk up behind him and stick in him the butt with a tranquilizer). Maybe this, maybe that. But it seemed like maybe these unneeded amendments might be handled and the good version voted on. Well, they were dealt with all right. They weren’t included at all.

And neither was anything else.

The final version, voted 48-0, banned gas chambers. But it left out the direct licensing provision. It included an exemption making it clear that anyone, you, me, Joe Puppy Mill, could shoot their animals. It exempts “normal agricultural activities” from the ban. This creates an interesting legal dilemma. Since the Puppy Mill Law requires breeders to use a vet to euthanize dogs but this bill says anyone may shoot their animal, which law would trump? Since it exempts agriculture, and puppy farms are considered to be agriculture in Pennsylvania, does this mean they can also now start using gas chambers if they all decide its “normal”?

This ambiguity makes it clear what is really be going on here and why this is a huge bluff being directed at those of us in animal welfare. The original bill posed a major philosophical problem for the Governor and the conservatives in Harrisburg. It actually created a new government bureaucracy to be in charge of direct licensing. It would require more oversight and enforcement by the Bureau- sorry- Office of Dog Law Enforcement. This runs counter to Corbett’s seeming effort to shrink the government through a death of a thousand incompetenties and to protect our citizens from government by stripping us of all our protections from everything else. Just look at the utterly unqualified people being selected for key positions. Look at the game of chicken being played with the budget of Dog Law and other agencies. Look at how even when he does appoint competent people to state positions, he ensures their ineffectiveness by not actually holding meetings and letting them do their appointed job. Look at how he refuses to enforce regulations on the books which would protect people and animals.

Why endanger that effort with a bill which creates a bureaucracy just to prevent a little cruelty? There was a better option in this game of poker. Bluff.

Strip is all away. Keep the vets happy. Keep the farmers happy. Keep the conservatives happy by not growing the government. Keep the liberals happy by allowing them to vote on a puppy hugging, feel good, so-stripped-as-to-be-meaningless gas chamber ban. Who cares what the animal shelters think? Corbett’s already screwed them over (after Rendell robbed the Dog Law budget) by cutting the tiny amount of funding provided to shelters by the state to do the state’s own job of dog control. Better yet, count on us to demand the bill be scuttled because it’s such a bad one and then they can all shrug and say, “We tried, but they shot it down.” SB 1329 simply became a way for everyone in Harrisburg to express their effectiveness at getting something, blocking something- whatever the personal political agenda may call for- and wrap it up with a bow in a bill which wouldn’t be signed even if it did pass both chambers.  Such bravery. Such unanimity. Such crap.

I say we call their bluff. Let’s demand passage now. Let’s force them to pass it and give them none of the credit for being courageous or bi-partisan. Give us our ban; we’ll give you no new “burdensome regulations” in exchange. We will know what they did. We’ll know how they put their tails between their legs and lived up to every negative impression the public has about our elected government. That is can’t be effective, that it plays games with our lives and livelihoods. That it puts dogma and ideology ahead of safety and need. Pass SB 1329 in the House. Get it signed by the Governor.

You may ask, “What about the problems with it? What will the shelters do?” The answer is simple. Let’s give shelters what they need to do it right. You and me. I will commit right now to joining with other qualified animal welfare professionals to create a non-profit management services organization (MSO), to be up and running by the effective date of the law, which will provide euthanasia by injection training by veterinarians and experts in the field. This MSO will provide access to DEA site licenses, oversight and insurance. This MSO will provide management assistance and audit support to ensure both the proper use of the drugs and techniques and compliance with all state and federal law, and will do it affordably for any who ask. The sheltering community in Pennsylvania has the capacity to do this. People like you have the financial capacity to make it a reality.  And it’s people like you who can help make sure the appropriate legal challenges are mounted when the next puppy farmer shoots all his dogs and points to this intentionally contradictory law as a justification.

We can embrace this ridiculous farce of a bill even while recognizing its shortcomings and the battles to come. We can bring an end to gas chamber euthanasia, no thanks to the brave men and women in Harrisburg. We can call their shameful bluff.

Governor Corbett and the Democratic and Republican leadership in Harrisburg: We see your bet. And we go all in. Now let’s see your cards.