The Pennsylvania SPCA, located in Philadelphia, PA, handles humane law enforcement for over a dozen counties across the state. The shelter sees thousands of cases of animal cruelty a year and many of those animals land in PSPCA custody. With the new Cost of Care Act, some neglectful or abusive owners surrender their pets more easily, not wanting to pay for the care while the animal is in the custody of the shelter, but others, for whatever reason, still fight.
That’s how Frosty ended up with the PSPCA.
Frosty is an approximately 6 year old pit bull type dog. He is an absolute joy to be around. He loves people, walks nicely on the leash, has fun chasing the ball, gets along with other dogs, small, two-footed playmates and even seems to tolerate cats. He’s an all around swell guy who just so happens to have been at the shelter since November, 2010. That’s three and a half years. It’s one thousand, two hundred, ninety-eight days (1,298). It’s thirty-one thousand, one hundred, fifty-two hours (31,152). And in a shelter, where every minute is one more minute that he’s homeless, it’s one million, eight hundred sixty-nine thousand, one hundred twenty minutes (1,869,120).
Sometimes I hear people question these numbers, and they are, in fact, eye-opening. So many people are so quick to blame the shelter – but the truth is, Frosty was not available for adoption for several of those years, nearly all of those days and hours and minutes. He just became available several months ago. And there was nothing the PSPCA or anyone else could do about it, because his “owner” wanted to battle it out in the courts. Dogs, cats, hamsters, horses, parrots, even the occasional alligator or two, are property under the eyes of the law, and you can’t just give away or sell or adopt out someone else’s property until the legal system has stripped it from him/her. And then there are the appeals and the stalling and the continuances and the rehearings.
Meanwhile, animals like Frosty wait.
There are options that the PSPCA utilizes to make the wait less difficult on the dogs, mainly, the shelter reaches out to fosters, but being a foster for a custody animal isn’t an easy task. Foster families of custody animals have no idea how long they will have the animal in their care, and in many cases, it can be years. They also can’t take pictures of the animals (killer to me), or discuss their cases or adopt them, but the most excruciating part of being a foster for a custody animal is the elephant in the room. What if the shelter loses the case? Then an animal that you’ve had in your care and loved and treated as a member of your family gets whisked away and sent back to the person it was seized from in the first place.
Joe and I were asked to do it once, and we couldn’t bear the thought. But I honor those who do. Unfortunately, there are just more animals than there are foster homes. So the minutes drag by behind shelter walls.
Custody cases are such a tricky and delicate thing, but when an animal is released, PSPCA tries to push hard for the animal’s adoption. For the first time in his life, Frosty is experiencing some ounces of freedom. He’s now cleared to go to events, where he can eat hot dogs and bask in kiddy pools while receiving pets and love from every stranger he encounters. He gets to go on car rides and to the park. But it isn’t a home. And at the end of the day, the car ends up back at the shelter where he goes back into his cage to lie on his Kuranda bed and wait.
That’s why I encourage everyone to think about these custody animals when he/she goes to adopt his/her next pet, especially this time of year. With kittens and puppies flooding the shelters, dogs and cats who deserve the forever of their dreams are overlooked. Some of these dogs and cats came into the shelter as kittens or puppies, and while all their counterparts were adopted out into loving families, they were stuck, chained by the legal system and an irresponsible owner who just wouldn’t give them up. They walked in on tiny paws, don’t let them walk out with gray muzzles. Consider adopting a recently released custody animal, the reward will be ten-fold.
*Author’s Note: None of the opinions in this piece are meant to definitively reflect the opinions or ideologies of the Pennsylvania SPCA. I am not a representative of the PSPCA, just a volunteer photographer sharing my limited experience dealing with the sensitive subject of humane law enforcement and animals who land in protective custody in Pennsylvania. For more information on Humane Law Enforcement provided by the PSPCA including a list of counties that they valiantly serve, click here.