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Please allow me to introduce myself: Karel Minor, Ecoterrorist

Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

Or at least that’s what I may be considered thanks to the passage by the house yesterday of SB 906, the “bio-security” bill.  That’s because the vague language included in the bill is more likely to be applied to me as a State trained and sworn Humane Society Police Officer (HSPO) than it will to Osama bin Laden.  And this designation is pretty serious stuff.  Somewhere right now a government computer is reading the words in my opening paragraph and flagging them.  All because I’m discussing a bill that will be used primarily to protect puppy millers and bad farmers from appropriate prosecution or from damning video exposes.

While I’m sure the unanimous vote indicates a genuine wish on the part of legislators to protect us from bio/eco-terrorism, commercial dog breeders see this law as the next tool in their arsenal to avoid prosecution for animal cruelty or to retaliate against HSPO’s who do their job.

SB 906 allows any “farmer”, and let’s not forget that dog breeding is considered agriculture in Pennsylvania, to take a couple simple steps to designate their “farm” (or puppy mill) as a bio-security zone.  Slap up a couple signs and let the fun begin!  Although the revised wording is somewhat more explicit in that it does not apply to a person “privileged to [enter a farm]”, which one would assume means a law enforcement officer legally investigating a reported crime such as animal cruelty, there is plenty still in it to cause trouble.

For example, entering a property to “threaten” the owner or occupant is considered ecoterrorism.  I’m guessing that citing a puppy miller for animal cruelty would be construed by the puppy miller to be a threat.  Will that result in the arrest of my officer on eco-terrorism charges?  There are also other intended targets of this law besides police officers.  What about the person who lawfully works on a farm, sees evidence of a crime and reports it or documents it?  Will the filmers of all those hidden videos of tortured dogs and dying livestock which result in massive cruelty cases be charged or sued as ecoterrorists?  You bet they will.

In fact, lawsuits and false criminal claims are the new weapon of choice by breeders since Humane Society Police Officers do not have the same protection from frivolous lawsuits as municipal or state police officers.  We enforce the same laws under the jurisdiction of our County DA’s, yet the officers and our organizations are open to lawsuits by the very breeders who have been prosecuted and stripped of their kennel licenses.  Even when the cases are thrown out of court, as was recently the case in a Federal suit against Mainline Animal Rescue, the bills to defend are staggering.

And I would know.  The Humane Society of Berks County is currently defending itself against such a federal suit filed by a breeder featured on the notorious Oprah puppy mill show who had his licensed revoked by the State.  Despite the fact that our County DA office handled the entire court case and a judge signed off on all action and warrants, the former breeder could still find an attorney (who previously represented the criminal breeder Skip Eckhart) who would be willing to bring a Federal case against the HSBC.  We have no doubt we will prevail over the frivolous suit but it will likely cost us tens of thousands of dollars to win (feel free to make a donation in support of our legal fund).

Since the Pennsylvania House and Senate declined to take up Rep. Siptroth’s HB 593 this year, which would provide our officers and the HSBC with the same immunity municipal police have, we are already weighing whether we should continue humane law enforcement.  I know the first time we are served with “ecoterrorism” charges for doing the job of enforcing PA cruelty laws, it will be the end of our law enforcement work.  I’m not sure that was the intended outcome for the legislature but it sure was for the breeders who wanted this bill so badly.

I want to keep cholera out of my daughters’ corn flakes as much as the next person.  But let’s be honest: Is the threat of a misdemeanor charge going to keep a radical jihadist or even some Earth Liberation Front type nut from doing whatever they are going to do on a farm?  Of course not.  All it will do to make those in animal welfare think twice before they pursue appropriate legal remedies to protect animals and people. 

The very least the House and Senate can do now is protect humane societies like ours from frivolous lawsuits.  It will give some small, cold comfort when I get added to a no fly list.

 Somewhere a puppy miller is rolling with laughter in his barn and a terrorist is rolling with laughter in his cave.


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3 Responses

  • Frank says:

    Great article, but one question: if these rules and lawsuits force the humane society to stop investigating animal cruelty cases, who will do it? Local police?

  • Karel Minor says:

    Great question, Frank. The reason for the law which gave Humane Societies/SPCA’s/etc. authority to enforce the PA cruelty code was that there was little or no enforcement otherwise by police with other priorities. It has turned out to be a complete divestiture of responsibility by the State, leaving the job entirely in our hands, complete with unfunded mandates for training, legal fees, animal housing, and personal and organizational liability. The one lawsuit we have had filed against us will likely cost more than the annual salary and benefits of one of our Humane Society Police Officers. Even if it is swiftly (and swiftly in legal terms is glacial) dispensed with by the Federal court, we will be out tens of thousands of dollars.

    The reality may be that we can’t afford to fight these frivolous lawsuits. That will leave enforcement to either the richest societies who can afford them, or to the police who probably won’t enforce them. The legislature needs to give us the same protection given to any police officer and department in the state.

  • Karel Minor says:

    PPS- Revised Comment (I realized I let a nasty comment directed at me made in private goad me into making a snotty one in public…breaking my own “Be nice, if a bit pointed” rule. Sorry!): It appears I have fans among the American Pet Registry! They have actively opposed Humane Society Officer immunity from frivolous lawsuit citing that “certain” humane officers are “biased and overbearing”. Guess what? I agree! Stay tuned…I will be following up with some specific, concrete and implementable suggestions for how we can address my concerns AND theirs. I’m sure they are more than happy to find a common ground solution ;)

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