In late February of 2012, a Harrisburg patrol officer responded to a call about a stray dog on Curtin Street, in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. The dog, a tan-and-white female pit bull named Madison, had wounds to her muzzle, neck and legs. The man who found her, suspecting abuse, had brought her into his home and called the police.
According to the officer, who asked not to be named for this article, the man’s story was initially convoluted. “I think he didn’t want to be completely upfront about how he came across this dog,” she told me. But, eventually, he admitted to knowing where Madison belonged—at a house up the street where, he believed, the owners were involved in dogfighting.
In Pennsylvania, participating in dogfighting, as a spectator or as an owner, is a third-degree felony. Dogfighting investigations can be complicated—the evidence is often a live animal that may need to be held until trial. But animal welfare advocates like to point out that they also can produce convictions for other crimes. According to Janette Reever, who manages the animal-fighting tip line at the Humane Society of the United States, it’s “very, very common” for the pursuit of a suspected dogfighting operation to turn up things like drugs, guns and child pornography. “It’s one of those things that goes hand-in-hand with other criminal activities,” she said.
The officer ran the address the man provided. As it turned out, various members of the household had criminal records. She decided to take Madison into custody and to refer the case for a fuller investigation.
It so happened that, at the time Madison was found, the city was fresh from a barrage of embarrassing news coverage of its stray dog policy. In mid-2011, the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area—not affiliated with the national organization—stopped accepting strays from the city, which was late paying bills. In December, the city made a catch-up payment, but, by January, officials were sparring again with the organization over terms in the new year’s contract. Meanwhile, someone had leaked an internal police department memo outlining a temporary policy for strays, which included an option to “place the animal in the prisoner van and release it in an area where it will be safe for the animal.” In a series of articles, the Patriot-News blasted the policy, at one point reporting that police had deposited a pit bull puppy in a cardboard box under a pavilion in Sunshine Park.
By the time the officer seized Madison, the contract with the Humane Society had been renewed. But it excluded holding dogs as evidence for a criminal trial, which required specialized care. So the city turned instead to the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance, an umbrella organization linking various animal welfare groups in the region, and particularly to its anti-dogfighting task force, which has been active in the city since 2010.
When the task force learned about Madison, it agreed to pay on the city’s behalf to board her at a nearby kennel while the investigation proceeded. “We were all excited,” Kris Baker, a member of the CPAA task force, told me recently. “We were like, ‘We know where this dog lives, we have everything we need, we have an eyewitness.’ I mean, this is it. We’re gonna get a dogfighting prosecution.”
After a month had passed, another volunteer on the task force, Michele Avery, contacted the police department about the status of the investigation. When Avery reached a police captain by phone, she said, he simply told her, “We don’t do dogs.” Rather, dogs were the province of the city’s animal control officer, Fred Lamke. Avery told him this was more than a stray dog case—Madison was part of a potential dogfighting investigation. He said he would call her back.
Eventually, Avery received a call from a police sergeant, who explained that the department would no longer need Madison as evidence. She asked for a message in writing, and on Thursday, March 29, at 11:26 a.m., the sergeant sent her an email:
Please release our “evidence” hold from the dog in case 2012-2-5386. We have photographs on file for prosecution. You may adopt or place the dog as needed. Thank you for your support.
Avery asked him to confirm the status of the investigation. The task force was meeting the following week, she explained, and she wanted to provide an update. A few minutes later, he wrote back. “I have closed it out for now but my Captain will be reviewing that order.” The detective bureau, he added, was “awash in robberies and other violent crime.”
Another month went by, and Avery contacted the department again, this time composing an email to Annette Oates, a captain who was known to be animal-friendly. A week later, in early May, Oates wrote, “This case has been assigned to Fred Lamke for follow up (FYI).”
Avery was baffled. “Fred Lamke is not a detective,” she told me. “He doesn’t even have a camera.” Baker didn’t get it, either. “Fred can enforce city ordinances and misdemeanors, but he can’t prosecute a felony. He’s not a police officer.”
They felt the department was letting a serious criminal operation slip away. “They treated me like I was crazy for thinking they would have anything to do with dogs,” Avery said.
Meanwhile, the patrol officer who had picked up Madison, having taken the investigation as far as she could, decided to let it go. “They could’ve done more,” she told me. “But I was stuck. You request, they deny, and then it’s over.”
Dogfighting is the most sensational form of a problem that, for some time now, has been stubbornly pervasive in Harrisburg. Every now and then, a story will surface of a dog escaping a yard, or of a dog attacking a citizen or an animal, or of a dog being put down by police. These can give a general sense of a trend borne out by official numbers. The Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area, which provides the city’s shelter services, receives between 200 and 250 dogs from Harrisburg each year.
Some forms of cruelty are more obviously malicious than others. Dogs may be given inadequate shelter, or have insufficient freedom of movement, or simply suffer from neglect. But they may also be physically abused. The CPAA, which maintains a dogfighting tip line, hears stories of puppies that are illegally bred, kept in crates covered in urine and feces, poorly fed, and sold without vaccinations. They have documented cases of dogs covered in bite wounds, dogs with exposed bone, dogs with cropped ears, dogs with their teeth ground down. In 2011, on New Year’s Eve, the group rescued a female pit bull from a dumpster where, with a prolapsed uterus and bite scars on her body, she had been left to die. In July, 2012, they responded to a call about a dead puppy, four months old, found in a trash bag with bite wounds and a broken neck.
The proliferation of neglect, combined with the abuse, has had consequences for humans. In May of 2011, a 12-year-old boy was riding his bike Uptown when he was attacked by a stray pit bull. He escaped by kicking and punching the dog, but wound up going to the emergency room for a rabies shot and stitches. A month later, an 80-year-old woman was knocked down on N. 4th Street by a pit bull, which tore into her arm. The fall left her with a broken hip and a broken leg. A neighbor explained later that he heard someone screaming and ran outside. “It was more than a dog bite,” he says, in a video available on PennLive. “It was down to the bone.”
The city, judging by City Council’s legislative record, has been aware of the problem since at least the mid-1990s. In 1996, the city passed a major amendment to its animal code, providing a definition of a “dangerous” dog and outlining strict requirements for possession of one. The definition lists nine separate characteristics, any one of which qualifies a dog as dangerous, including “powerful jaws capable of crushing bone,” a “tendency to attack even those persons and animals that exhibit no provocative behavior,” and a “strong chase instinct.” In 2004, citing an increase in attacks, council added four more conditions, including a designation of “dangerous” for a dog that gives three unprovoked bites in a year (or one bite, if it causes substantial harm).
Last May, council extended the city’s cruelty laws. An anti-tethering ordinance, moved by Brad Koplinski, created strict regulations on the length of time and the manner in which a dog can be left tethered or unattended outdoors. It provides a number of conditions for issuing citations, including inadequate access to food and water, insufficient shelter, and exposure to the elements during weather below freezing or above 90 degrees. The penalty for a first offense is $350 and may include seizure of the animal; subsequent offenses can lead to imprisonment.
The ordinances also authorize the city to keep detailed records on dog ownership. In 1998, the city broke with Dauphin County and began administering its own licensing program for dogs. If you live in the city and own a dog over three months old, you are required by law to apply for a city license, which can be issued for a period of either one or three years. The licenses are the initial checkpoint for ensuring compliance with other laws; if you don’t have proof of a current rabies vaccination, for instance, you can’t get a license. The license application also provides the city with owners’ names and contact information and the name, breed and description of each registered dog.
Together, these ordinances should provide grounds for a comprehensive crackdown on irresponsible owners, illegal breeding and abuse. But the laws, though relatively progressive, are only partly enforced.
For one, very few owners license their dogs. Brett Miller, an animal-welfare advocate who devised the state’s formula for estimating dog populations, calculates that there are around 10,600 dogs in Harrisburg. In 2012, however, the city only issued 570 licenses—418 three-year licenses and 152 one-year licenses. At those levels, the fees are so small as to be almost nominal. According to the tax enforcement office, since at least as far back as 2001, the city’s total dog licensing revenue has hovered just above $8,000. By comparison, in 2012, the city made payments of $56,750 to the Humane Society, in addition to the animal control officer’s salary of $44,000.
In addition, since the anti-tethering ordinance is still relatively new, the police department has been reluctant to enforce it aggressively. A lieutenant explained that residents are still in a “honeymoon period.” Rather than issue a citation, officers will hand owners a copy of the ordinance and urge them to take better care of their dogs. But, in the process, he said, the department could learn “who the habitual violators are,” in order to keep an eye on them later.
The city also has made virtually no effort to enforce its dangerous dog statutes, at least with respect to licensing. That’s partly a result of the laws’ questionable constitutionality. Lamke, the animal control officer, told me that, following the court’s rejection of a similar law in Erie, the city has deferred to the state law’s narrower definition of a dangerous dog.
But Harrisburg has apparently never been serious about identifying dangerous dogs or discouraging owners from keeping them by applying the much higher license fee. A secretary in the tax enforcement office, who has been working there since the city assumed licensing from the county, informed me that, to her knowledge, the city had issued only one dangerous dog license—and that was done incorrectly, by a different department. At any rate, the dog didn’t receive a special red identification tag, as specified in the law, because the office didn’t have them. According to the secretary, the city had never ordered any.
Last Halloween, Amy McIntire was out trick-or-treating with her granddaughter, near Chestnut and 18th streets in Allison Hill, when she spotted a bulldog chained to a plastic dog crate outside an abandoned building. For several years, McIntire has been the task force’s unofficial eyes and ears in the city, relaying messages, videos and photos when she comes across evidence of cruelty. “She’s kind of like our little informant,” one of the task force members told me. “She’s our snitch.”
As she approached the chained bulldog, McIntire saw that there was no food or water nearby, nor was there any protection from the wind and rain. In addition, the dog, a female, was about to give birth. “She was barking and carrying on,” McIntire told me. “She was scared, and she was ready to have the babies at any time.” She called a contact who runs a rescue in York Haven, and the two began mobilizing others in the network.
Over the next several hours, the group passed messages back and forth over Facebook, trying to come up with a strategy for getting the dog out of the cold. McIntire was reluctant to call the police. When she had tried give the dog food, it “went into defense mode,” and she worried police would shoot at the first sign of aggression. Eventually, the group found a rescue that would take her, but the owner didn’t want to give her up. They decided to report the case to Fred Lamke, hoping he would issue a citation the next day.
In the morning, Lamke visited the owner, handed him a copy of the ordinance and got him to take the dog inside. By the afternoon, she was back outside again. “Someone please call Fred,” somebody wrote. “Fred got off at 3 p.m. and won’t be back until Monday,” someone else replied.
The group diverged over what to do next. Some wanted to scrape together money and try to buy the dog directly from the owner: “We need the mom and pups removed for safety, as well as to prevent an entire litter of pittie pups being sold to morons, to one day have more pups.” Others wanted to add the threat of citations. Someone had heard a rumor that the owner actually lived Uptown, and, therefore, might have been using an empty lot to store the dog unattended—a violation of the anti-tethering ordinance.
On Saturday, a baby pool appeared by the dog, presumably to provide her a place to whelp. On Sunday, McIntire visited again: “[T]he SOB is sitting in his warm SUV, while the dog looks at him begging to get in the warm truck with him.” That evening, Brett Miller reached Brad Koplinski, who had visited the site Friday and Saturday and spoken with the owner. Koplinski pledged to drive by and, if necessary, involve the police.
That evening, the dog gave birth. As it turned out, she was licensed and vaccinated, and the owner was apparently willing to bring its habitat into compliance with the regulations. “The guy tried,” Koplinski told me. “He put up a decent amount of fencing, there was water for the dog, it had a wooden roof, it had a tarp on it. I think the collective effort made the guy realize—‘I could get in a lot of trouble here. Let’s just play this smart, and get the dog inside.’”
People who care about animal cruelty tend to care about it intensely. A line frequently quoted by members of the task force is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” When this sense of mission, coupled with affection for the animals, comes up against the realities of enforcement, the result is often profound disappointment. McIntire remains convinced that someone tipped off the owner on how to avoid a citation. She has continued to keep an eye on the area, hoping to spot evidence that would warrant a seizure, but the prospect seems unlikely.
Daniel Benny, a humane officer who is authorized to inspect for cruelty in Dauphin County, told me he visited the site and determined that there was no violation of the law. “You need to respect people’s rights,” he said. “I don’t put my personal view into it. It’s hard sometimes, because you see things that are heartbreaking. But my position is, we respect the law.” After his visit, he emailed his assessment to members of the CPAA, where he volunteers.
“The law basically stinks,” Zella Anderson, the CPAA’s founder, told me. She acknowledged that the weather may not have been cold enough to justify a seizure, but her concern was with the larger pattern of inaction and complacency around the problem of cruelty. When I first spoke to her about the dog on Zarker, a week after Halloween, she was exasperated.
“We don’t know what vet care she’s getting,” she said. “And now the puppies will be sold, and the cycle repeats.”
Initially, when the task force assembled, they saw themselves as partners of law enforcement, rather than critics of it. In the spring of 2010, the group lobbied City Council to hold a hearing on the topic of dogfighting. Soon afterward, Koplinski introduced a resolution pledging that the city would address the problem, and it passed unanimously. That September, the task force organized a seminar for police, led by an assistant D.A. in Allegheny County with a record of dogfighting prosecutions. Around two dozen Harrisburg police officers attended.
“My perhaps rather naïve thought at the time was, if they learn how to investigate and prosecute, then they’ll start tackling the dogfighting, which we knew to be going on,” Felicity Fox, a founder of the task force, told me. The response to the seminar, though, was discouraging. Advocates who attended thought the officers seemed uninterested; at the end of the presentation, no one asked any questions. In the months after the training, the task force saw virtually no movement from the department.
The group also struggled to secure any meaningful commitment from the office of the mayor. At one point, the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area, in an effort to help the city curb the population of strays, provided the administration with spay/neuter vouchers. The vouchers would have allowed residents to bring animals in for a free procedure, but the city didn’t distribute them.
“We said, ‘OK, look, we gotta get really serious about this,’” Amy Kaunas, the organization’s executive director, told me. Since the vast majority of dogs the shelter receives from the city are pit bulls, she added a cap on the number of pit bulls it would accept each year, to spur the city to take action. (Several years ago, the number of strays or abandoned dogs was more than 300; the decrease, Kaunas said, is not a measure of improvement, but solely a result of the cap.) Yet the administration continued to deny there was a problem. Mayor Linda Thompson claimed that the dogs were not actually Harrisburg’s—instead, they were being brought in from neighboring counties and dumped within city limits.
Meanwhile, as the task force continued to catalog animal control cases, a troubling pattern emerged. Police responses were unpredictable. Sometimes, officers would defer to Fred Lamke, even if he wasn’t on duty; at other times, officers would handle situations themselves, with wildly variable outcomes.
In one widely publicized case, in March 2011, officers responded to a report of two stray pit bulls Uptown. They seized the dogs and, because the city’s contract with the shelter had expired, took them to the incinerator and shot them. Their owner, who came home to find his dogs missing from his yard, didn’t learn what had become of them until several days later. Animal advocates were outraged—state law requires that stray dogs, once subdued, must be held at a kennel for 48 hours before being put down—but the police chief at the time, Pierre Ritter, defended the action as a proper response to a threat to public safety. (Ritter was later quoted in the Patriot-News saying his officers had “handled it 100 percent correctly.”)
In another case, in February 2012, two officers checked on a dog that had been left behind in a home on Argyle Street following the arrest of its owner for drug charges. Amy McIntire noticed the dog in the window, and, for several days, she made numerous calls to Lamke that someone should collect her, but never received a reply. On Feb. 3, two officers showed up with a snare, intending to capture her, but were surprised to find the dog outside in the yard. According to the police incident report, a neighbor had opened a window, and the escaped dog lunged at one of the officers, biting him twice on the leg. They shot the dog, whose corpse was taken in for rabies testing, and the officer went to the hospital.
“She did what any dog would’ve done,” McIntire told me. “If they’d waited til Monday, for Fred Lamke, that dog would still be alive today.”
Ron Hollister, a humane officer who works with the task force, is more sympathetic to the police. “You can’t just go willy-nilly into somebody’s house. They will attack,” he acknowledged. “But if the dog’s gnawing on your leg, what are you gonna do?” he said. “I know some of these people would say, ‘I’d let it chew my legs off.’ Well, OK. But not me.”
Incidents like this have left a number of animal-welfare advocates reluctant to place an emergency call, for fear that an improperly approached rescue will end in a shooting. This is not so much a condemnation of the police, many of whom they believe to be animal-friendly, as it is a fear that, in the absence of a clear policy or support from superiors, even sympathetic members of the force will wind up needlessly killing a dog.
Kris Baker, who is friendly with a number of officers, is often surprised when she learns who was involved in an incident. After the two dogs were put down at the incinerator, she said, “I couldn’t believe it. I knew both of those officers, and they would never have done that.” The problem, she believes, is the leadership. “You don’t just discharge a weapon like that without seeking permission first. That command was coming from higher up.”
The walls of Captain Oates’ office are covered with pictures of cats and dogs. Many of them are photos of her own pets, all of them rescues. Behind her desk is a placard—“One cat leads to another cat leads to another…”—and on the wall, above her computer, a cartoon of a puppy in a Superman cape, with the caption “The mightiest of hearts beats within my little dog.”
Oates has straight, chin-length brown hair and a tranquil, deliberative manner. The day I visited, she walked me through the department’s protocol. When Fred Lamke is on duty, officers refer animal calls to him. When he’s off, officers will respond themselves and can issue citations, unless they feel the matter can wait for Lamke. Officers were equipped to seize dogs if possible, but if a dog attacks, they will shoot. But, she said, “We’ll do everything we can before we use deadly force.”
I asked her about the leaked memo from 2011, which she had authored. At first, she was reluctant to talk about it. “Those were guidelines,” she said. “That’s all I’m really gonna say about it.” She paused. “The situation was, we had these animals, and we had nothing to do with them.” They couldn’t take dogs to the shelter, but they couldn’t just leave them on city streets. Eventually, with the help of the CPAA, the city built a temporary kennel in a garage near the incinerator, but it was clearly inadequate to the potential volume of strays. For a while, rescues were arriving every few days, and the kennels got in the way of other police work. After several months, the shelter was taken down.
I asked Oates, who has been with the department since 1986, whether the problem had noticeably worsened in her years on the force. She believed it had, though she couldn’t provide statistics. She speculated that, in recent years, the recession had exacerbated the situation—people simply didn’t have the money to take care of their pets. She disliked that some people treated their dogs as disposable, but beyond that, she had little to say about a strategy to curb cruelty.
Before I left, Oates returned to topic of the 2011 memo. Her words, she said, had gotten “so, so twisted” in the press. “Anyone who knows me knows I would never just instruct officers to shoot dogs for the sake of shooting dogs.” Her aim was to prevent a situation where dogs were simply left to roam at large, at a time when the city’s suspended contract left the department with few options. “Our hands were tied,” she said.
After our interview, I went back and re-read the memo. “Supervisors,” it begins. “Since we can no longer take dogs & cats to the Humane Society, we will do the following.” There are three numbered items. If the animal is “vicious & a danger to the public” or “obviously sick, injured or suffering,” it may be killed “in as safe a manner as possible.” If it’s determined “to be a ‘found’ animal,” officers may ask the person who placed the call if he or she, or an acquaintance, would like to keep the animal, or the officers may adopt the animal themselves. Barring that, they are to collect the animal and release it somewhere safe. “If you choose to adopt the animal yourself or release it in a safe environment,” it adds, “DO NOT inform the complainant of your intentions.”
Criticisms of the memo reached a national audience. The Patriot-News branded the policy “shoot-‘em, adopt-‘em or drop-‘em,” which gave the impression that officers were free to choose among the options. Other outlets picked up this characterization. Cesar’s Way, an advocacy website connected to Cesar Millan, the expert trainer from the television show “The Dog Whisperer,” wrote that “officers were told that if they didn’t want to adopt the animal themselves, they should take it out of town and leave it or, failing that, shoot it.”
But the language of the memo suggests a more subtle failure. At the time, the department defended the text as a draft, and the tone is obviously provisional. It concludes, “These are the best options we can offer at this time. If anyone has any other ideas, please email me.” Above the officers, the former chief and the mayor had denied the problem, and on the ground, they were overwhelmed with other crimes. The budget crisis meant that the department had to keep revisiting its protocol. After my conversation with Oates, the memo looked not so much callous or cruel as simply hopeless.
Fred Lamke is a hard man to get a hold of. Over a period of several months, I placed numerous calls to his cell phone, none of which were returned. I tried to visit him at his business—when he’s not on duty, he runs the horse-drawn carriage company on City Island—but he always seemed to have just left on an errand.
Once, as he was leaving by car, I waved to him, and he rolled down the window. We chatted briefly. He said the pit bull problem was mostly about economics. It was cheaper to buy a puppy from your neighbor than to pay full price at the Humane Society. He agreed to talk more about it later. Another month went by of unanswered calls.
Finally, the new police chief, Thomas Carter, arranged an interview. On an icy morning in December, he led me to a small office room in the police bunker below city hall. Lamke, who is tall, with wild gray hair and small oval glasses, was standing in the hallway. He wore olive-green muck boots, a ball cap and a jacket with a faded animal control patch on the left shoulder. “You want me to talk to him? That OK?” he said as we approached.
“Yes, definitely,” Carter said. They discussed a shooting, the night before, of a 10-year-old boy in Allison Hill, who was struck in the face by a bullet while watching TV.
“I said to my wife, ‘The chief grew up in the city. That hurt him, to see that,’ ” Lamke said.
“Lot of dumb people doing a lot of dumb stuff these days,” the chief concluded. He headed back upstairs.
Lamke began by explaining that the number of citations he had issued in 2013 was approaching his highest total in more than 20 years. “We’ve gotten very, very aggressive,” he said. A lieutenant pulled up Lamke’s records. As of December, he had given out 89 non-traffic citations, mostly for failure to restrain an animal or for lack of a rabies vaccination or license. But, Lamke added, his priority was to get owners to control their dogs, not to cite or fine them. “If you issue the citation, it’ll take sometimes 30 to 45 days to get it in front of the district justice,” he said. “Whereas, if we can get this thing resolved in the moment, and get compliance, that’s what this is really all about.”
Lamke regards the animal control situation in Harrisburg as a function of the urban environment. High-density housing, he said, increases the volume of calls. Where an escaped dog in the suburbs might roam a large backyard, in the city it winds up on a neighbor’s porch. In addition, Harrisburg’s large number of transient residents, combined with generational poverty, leads to a high rate of abandonment. “When the economy goes bad, people lose their jobs. They can’t take as good a care of their pets. They lose their homes; they leave their pets behind,” he said.
I mentioned the “stray dog problem” in Harrisburg. “I don’t think we have a stray dog problem in the city,” Lamke said. When I expressed surprise, he clarified. In the 80s, the city was home to actual packs of wild dogs, which the animal control sector, created by then-Mayor Stephen Reed, had successfully cleaned up. Now, the problem was primarily abandonment. “A dog that’s been chained and left behind is not a stray dog. Those are abandoned pets that were owned by someone,” he said.
I asked about the anti-dogfighting seminars and whether he had found them instructive. He thought for a moment, then said that for him, “90 percent” of what was covered was review because he goes to such trainings “just about on a yearly basis.” I asked him what sort of things an officer looks for in a dogfighting investigation. Janette Reever, the dogfighting expert at the Humane Society of the United States, had provided me a long list of evidence she sought in building a case: steroids and suture materials in the owners’ possession, “break sticks” used to pry fighting dogs apart, notes recording outcomes of fights, and so-called “rape stands” used for forcible breeding.
Lamke mentioned none of these things. “You look for multiple dogs in multiple houses, dogs on short chains, pit bulls that don’t get along,” he said. Pit bulls used in dogfighting, he added, “don’t like each other, so they’re not able to interact with each other.” I asked if he had ever pursued anyone for dogfighting. “Oh, yeah,” he said, and mentioned a case from 15 years ago. The problem, he said, is that fighting is very hard to detect, and none of the department’s recent cases were strong enough to make it to the courts. He mentioned the officer involved in the Madison case, who had worked with him in her investigations. “She came back to me after it was all said and done, and said, ‘Fred, I’ve been trying, I can’t get nothing.’”
I brought up the Humane Society’s free spay/neuter vouchers. Lamke said that, though he tries not to be cynical, most animal control programs he has observed over the years are simply not successful. “Put it to you this way,” he said. “We tell people not to smoke. We tell people not to drink. We tell people all the behaviors that are bad for you, but they just don’t listen.” (One exception was the CPAA’s “trap, neuter and release” program for feral cats, which he described as “an astronomical program.”) I asked how many vouchers he handed out per year. “It depends on how many they give me,” he said. “It’s somewhere around 30.”
Later, when I mentioned this to Kaunas, the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area’s director, she was flabbergasted. The arrangement with the city, which she had explained to both the mayor and police chief, was that the shelter would provide unlimited vouchers. Once Lamke distributed the ones he had, he simply had to ask for new ones. “Let me tell you something,” she added. “In all the years we’ve done the free voucher program, I have only gotten one filled out spay/neuter voucher from the city. And you know whose pet it was for? Fred Lamke’s!”
At one point during our interview, I asked Lamke for his assessment of the Zarker Street case, where the pregnant female pit bull was found on Halloween. He mentioned Daniel Benny, the humane officer—a “very good, balanced investigator, in my estimation”—and his report that there was no evidence of cruelty.
What about the rumor that the owner was living in a garage? I asked.
“Not privy to that. Don’t know,” Lamke said.
“Did you see evidence inside of the garage, like a bed?”
“Once the dog’s inside his place of business, like I said—he took the puppies inside, and, after that point, it’s none of my business.”
The gap between Lamke’s approach and the hopes of the animal-welfare advocates became suddenly clear. The advocates, with their memories of each rescued dog, wanted an all-out approach to put an end to the problem. Lamke, however, wanted basic compliance and deference to people’s privacy. I asked about the possibility that the Zarker Street puppies might become next year’s abandoned dogs, each one costing the city $265 to drop off at the shelter.
“There’s a really good possibility that that could be the case,” he said.
This fall, the task force grew hopeful again that the city would get serious about combatting animal cruelty. As the mayoral election approached, Brett Miller arranged meetings with Republican candidate Dan Miller and Democratic candidate Eric Papenfuse, who both gave indications that they would work to address the problem.
After Papenfuse was elected, the team prepared a list of objectives, including the establishment of a mayor’s animal advisory board to examine ways to improve licensing and education. They will also urge the new mayor to authorize three regional humane officers to enforce the anti-tethering ordinance in the city. (Lamke maintains that, between him and the city’s 120 officers, the department has enforcement covered. “If you have a lot of other folks coming in, they may not be doing it the right way,” he said.)
In July, the Humane Society of the United States hosted an anti-dogfighting seminar at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Lamke and a supervisor attended, as did a deputy district attorney for Dauphin County, who has since put a stronger focus on building animal cruelty cases.
Last spring, a couple of advocates got a tip about an owner who was beating his dog in an apartment on 2nd Street. Ron Hollister, the humane officer, got a statement from a neighbor describing sounds of abuse. Eventually, the landlord entered the apartment and discovered feces and urine on the floor, along with what appeared to be marks from where the dog had been thrown against the wall. The dog itself, a 40-pound pit bull, was enclosed in a small crate with a broken leg. The owner was out of town. Hollister involved the D.A., and, in May, a judge issued a fine of nearly $1,100, in addition to veterinary fees.
Madison, the stray pit bull found Uptown on Curtin Street, is now in a program called HOPE, for Hounds of Prison Education, where she will be trained as a service dog by inmates at the Camp Hill prison. Other dogs are not so easy to rehabilitate. Hollister, who runs his own rescue, has developed something of a specialty handling difficult cases. After years of abuse, he said, some dogs require an enormous effort to be kept under basic control.
“The animal has just, like, totally lost trust in man,” he said. He has 14 dogs in his rescue and is at capacity, but he continues to respond to calls. “They keep telling me I can’t save ‘em all. But I can try. I can try to save at least this one dog.”