April Raises Animal Abuse Awareness

Posted: April 25, 2014

Daily News-Record

As a kitten, Harrison’s ears were cut off by humans. After landing at Cat’s Cradle, the kitten — now known as Van Gogh — was adopted by Stephanie Miller in 2010. (Courtesy Photo)
(Courtesy Photo)

An abandoned iguana left to starve. A kitten with his ears cut off. A puppy who died after being thrown against a wall.

As the only animal control officer for the city of Harrisonburg, Jetta Earhart’s seen it all. Though at times her job is harrowing, the self-described animal-lover generally manages to keep her emotions in check.

“You got to have the right perspective on it; if you let it get to you, you’re not effective,” she remarked.

Earhart, however, is the first to acknowledge that she can’t do her job alone. Pointing out that animals don’t have voices, she says she relies heavily on city residents to report suspicious activity.

“Citizens are the eyes and ears of the community …  because of a phone call I receive, it allows me to do my job [protecting animals],” she explained.

Worried their suspicions are unfounded; some individuals may hesitate to report their concerns. Yet like Earhart, Anne Anderson — executive director of the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA — urges locals to trust their instincts when it comes to an animal’s well-being.

“If anything looks out of whack and not normal, contact the authorities,” she advised.

To encourage citizens to speak up on behalf of abused animals, the ASPCA declared April Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. According to the ASPCA’s website, citizens should look out for physical signs of animal abuse, including embedded collars, open wounds, signs of multiple healed wounds, loss of hair, scaly skin with bumps or rashes, extreme thinness, parasites, extreme matting of fur, limping, heavy discharge from the eyes or nose, visible signs of extreme drowsiness and an owner striking an animal.

Earhart adds that, in some cases, there may be a medical explanation for an animal’s unsightly appearance, but says there’s no harm in checking.

“You don’t know those things until you investigate,” she pointed out.

Other signs of environmental abuse include pets being tied up alone outside for long periods of time without adequate food, water or shelter, pets kept in areas littered with feces, garbage or harmful objects, and animals housed in crowded cages or kennels.

According to Earhart, locals convicted of animal cruelty in Virginia may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony. If convicted, individuals may face a $2,500 fine and up to five years in jail.

This April, the ASPCA is also encouraging citizens to speak up about animal cruelty to their local legislators, and to show support for stronger anti-cruelty laws on the federal, state and local levels.

According to Anderson, animal activists in Virginia have been trying to pass a bill that would establish an online animal abuse registry for years.

“It would be a database, so that any organization or individual could make the determination of whether or not someone had been [convicted] of animal cruelty in the past,” she explained. “There are certainly a lot of people who would find this information useful, such as breeders, pet stores and SPCAs, and anyone involved with animal welfare.”

The bill, which Anderson supports, has never passed, which she believes is due to budgetary concerns. Anderson, however, remains hopeful.

“Look how many years it took the sexual offender piece to go through,” she remarked.

Earhart said she thinks an animal abuse registry would “be great,” and says it seems only fair, as a registry already exists for dogs that have been labelled dangerous.

To learn more about the Animal Abuse Registry, visit exposeanimalabusers.org. To report suspected abuse, call 437-2670.

Contact Katie King at 574-6271 or kking@dnronline.com.

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