SEBRING — If Lt. Clay Kinslow of Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services wants to inspect a foster home for multiple pets, he can’t just walk in.
Like any other private residence, he or his officers can ask to enter. If the owner declines, they would need a warrant, for which they’d need probable cause.
Fortunately, for the 49 animals found alive last Thursday in a house on Memorial Drive, they had probable cause. Through a window they saw kennel cages stacked on one another and smelled the reek of feces and urine from inside the house.
Even though the owner, Jinece Loughry, declined them entry, the warrant allowed them to go inside and rescue the animals. It was too late for 23 animals, however, who had died.
Loughry now stands charged with 72 counts of animal cruelty. The case mirrors one in 2012 where she kept 60 animals in similar circumstances in her home while working as “dog warden,” or animal control officer, for the township of Berwick, Pennsylvania.
Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman wants to prevent such cases from happening again.
Up until now, Kinslow has had no direct authority under the code to inspect local shelters, and no way of checking on foster pet homes at all.
He said there are Florida agencies that sanction animal rescue operations, but they don’t inspect the facilities. Highlands County Sheriff’s Office took up that role, he said, and so far, animal shelter and adoption organizations have cooperated on their own.
“Everything is done with the consent of the owner,” Kinslow said. “It’s the same with the rescues.”
If an organization did refuse to let them see the animals, it may raise a red flag, but then they’d need probable cause and a warrant.
However, he has no way to inspect foster pet homes. Blackman hopes to get that changed.
It’s much the same way in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, said Nicole Wilson, director of Human Law Enforcement for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
She’s worked in animal welfare for 20 years, starting with a rural shelter in Maryland. Prior to her current job, she worked as a county field supervisor for dog wardens.
The PSPCA is different from typical law enforcement, she said. While dog wardens are employed by state or local government to handle nuisance complaints, “humane officers” are employed by nonprofits to handle abuse or neglect allegations.
PSPCA was founded in 1867, Wilson said, and for 150 years, Pennsylvania has had a partnership with the non-profit organization to handle such quasi-governmental matters.
Like law enforcement arms in other states, she also can only operate with the cooperation of the rescue shelter operators and foster pet homeowners.
Typically, she said, she can’t make inspections, because they don’t give consent for it.
Also, the PSPCA doesn’t cover all counties, she said: Just the ones where the organization operates. Other counties are covered by other organizations, or by no organizations at all.
When Kinslow gets a complaint, his officers have to investigate, to “put eyeballs on the animals.”
In the case of last Thursday’s complaint, they had to get a warrant. Once they did, they had to get the animals to rescue organizations.
Kinslow has an on-site kennel, but space is limited.
Pennsylvania has no public-run kennels, Wilson said: Just the nonprofits.
“The law is inherently reactive,” Wilson said. “Although I work for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, when it comes to enforcement, we can’t compel them (to hand over animals) until they commit the crime.”
She has no civil process to address the issue, and knows of very few states that have one.
Mary Sult, shelter coordinator for Animal Resource Center in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, said her facility gets inspected twice a year, but only the building and paperwork; not the condition of the animals.
Sult said some counties have no humane officers, at all. Dog wardens must cover four of five counties at once, and local law enforcement often can’t get one in a timely manner.
Pennsylvania has a Bureau of Dog Law, and local law enforcement doesn’t always know that code, Sult said.
“I’ve informed the state police on dog laws,” Sult said: Once a month. “Those are the ones who care to contact us.”
Even then, Wilson said Pennsylvania has few problems with strays for many reasons: Breeding laws and regulations, limits on animal ownership in municipalities and background checks on who can foster animals.
PSPCA does a full criminal background check to catch people with violent or emotional issues, she said, and those who default on contracts: They can’t keep commitments.
As for hoarding, Wilson said the “pathology” is that people convince themselves animals are safer with them than without them.
If the animal is dying, it’s “dying slower,” she said.
“We all have limitations, and our limitations may vary,” Wilson said.
She can handle a couple of dogs and a couple of cats, but some people can handle 20 with enough time, resources and patience.
“The number itself is not the issue,” Wilson said. “It’s all the need attached to that number, and the costs along with them.”
As an adoption counselor at a rural shelter in Maryland, she’d tell adopters that, as with kids, they may be lucky for a few years with just regular doctor visits, but that luck runs out with a sudden illness or injury.
People have to put money aside for that, Wilson said.
Kinslow said, in Loughry’s case, Highlands County has more than enough rescue agencies to get help or hand-off some animals. An inspection, he said, would have let officers discover a growing problem and intervene before she had criminal charges.
He’s had people surrender animals because they can’t afford vet bills or an apartment won’t allow them.
The rescue organizations, he said, can marshal more resources, more than he can on his budget, and find homes for animals.