HARTWICK SEMINARY – It was a scene Stacie Haynes has seen play out before.
Two pigs, skinny and without food, water or hay, trying to eat the corpses of two dead pigs in a trash pile at a farm on County Route 18, Town of Pittsfield. “They were shivering and cold,” she said. “We got called out there at night in a rainstorm, and we seized them.”
Now playfully dubbed “Sonny and Cher,” the two pigs – one male, one female, approximately five months old – are at the SPCA with plenty of clean hay and shelter.
“The good news is that we were able to save them before they were emaciated,” said Haynes, SSPCA executive director. “They’re skinny, they’re not in great health, but we got in there in time to rescue them.”
According to Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr., the case was called in by a neighbor who heard “unusual noises” coming from the barn.
“The neighbor went over there and found two deceased pigs,” said Devlin. “They then saw two more pigs with no food or water, and they called us.”
The neighbors also tried to provide water for the pigs while they awaited the sheriff’s deputies. “It’s disheartening to think that those animals were just left there to die,” the sheriff said. “It’s horrible, I don’t understand how anyone could do this.”
It was the second such call that Haynes had received in the days since the Animal Cruelty Task Force – renamed PETS, for Prevention, Education, Training and Systems – met for the first time Thursday, May 9 to begin planning how to address animal abuse and neglect in the county.
In addition to Haynes, Devlin and Muehl, PETS includes Christine Schneider of Leatherstocking Veterinary Group, New Berlin; SSPCA Vet Tech Sara Haddad, and Joan Puritz of Oneonta Veterinary Clinic.
Among their discussions, Haynes said, was figuring out how to get the word out about reporting animal abuse so that investigators can respond. “A lot of times, people call and they don’t leave a name or number,” she said. “I can’t just go out to a random road to look at a horse because of an anonymous caller.”
“We will keep your name private,” said District Attorney John Muehl, a task force member. “But without a name, we really can’t help.”
However, since the story was published on AllOTSEGO.com asking readers to report instances of abuse or neglect, Haynes said that two more such calls in addition to the pigs have come in.
One investigation, which involved horses, allowed Haynes to meet with and work with the owners to try and help them take better care of their animals. “We think of it as a strong warning,” she said. “You have to take better care of your animals.”
They are also following up on a third reported case. According to Devlin, the investigation into the Pittsfield case is still ongoing.
Most cases of animal cruelty, said Haynes, are people who find themselves overwhelmed. “They’re not intentionally torturing an animal, they just end up in unfortunate circumstances.”
“In hoarding cases, many times it’s a mental health issue,” said Muehl. “They think they’re rescuing all these animals. They emotionally care, but they can’t physically care for that many.”
As such, the task force believes, the education piece is crucial to the prevention side of things. “We want to train officers to recognize signs of animal abuse,” said Muehl.
That training will also extend to social services agencies, including Child and Adult Protective Services and the Office of the Aging.
“We want them to recognize what animal cruelty looks like,” said Haynes. “Too often, different departments ask us for help too late or in the middle of a crisis, so our response isn’t as organized. We want them to call us before there’s a crisis, or tell someone who has, for instance, six dogs they can’t take care of that they can call us and we will be a resource, even if it’s just bringing a few bags of dog food.”
Another component of education is making people aware that the Susquehanna SPCA is available to help. “There’s an awareness portion,” said Devlin. “We want to let people who need help know they can get help.”