As our name implies, one of our main objectives is the prevention of cruelty to animals. We set the example for the community by abiding by both state and local animal control laws and by treating animals above the county?s minimum standards. We try to educate the public to also give care above the minimum standards.
We are authorized to enforce the Maryland State Code, Article 27, ?Cruelty to Animals,? which states that it is unlawful for anyone to deprive an animal of necessary sustenance, or to torture, cruelly beat, mutilate or cruelly kill any animal. Also, the owner or custodian of an animal may not inflict unnecessary suffering or pain upon the animal, or fail to provide it with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, necessary veterinary care, proper drink, air, space, shelter or protection from the weather.
SPCA/HS maintains a 24-hour answering service for reports of cruelty or neglect (301-262-5625, line #1). Depending on the season, SPCA/HS receives an average of 35 cruelty/neglect complaints a month. Winter and summer are the busiest cruelty seasons: dogs are chained without access to proper shelter in the bitter cold or without access to shade in the blazing heat. When pastures are bare in late winter and spring, horses are starved for lack of grain and hay. Springtime is an unhappy time for the animals and for us, because the pet population grows and grows. Dogs and cats are allowed to breed and have litters, often being abandoned or left to fend for themselves.
Because we are all volunteers (most with full-time jobs), we work cooperatively with the Prince George?s County Animal Management Division (AMD) and report most cruelty complaints to them. The County?s AMD handles these calls as appropriate, sending out their Animal Control Officers if needed. In most of these cases, we follow up later with the County?s AMD, to make sure the situation has been resolved. However, the Cruelty/Abuse Prevention Coordinator does occasionally decide that we should intervene or handle a case ourselves. In such instances, we dispatch our own representative to investigate or gather additional information (e.g., pictures, addresses, statements, etc.). Depending on the case specifics, the SPCA/HS representative will be either a Humane Officer or a volunteer investigator. We discuss the differences between these representatives in greater detail below.
The Role of SPCA/HS Humane Officers
We train our Humane Officers to look for violations of the state law and take appropriate action. If a Humane Officer has reason to believe that a cruelty exists, he/she may enter the yard where the animal is confined and take care of the animal's needs. If there is strong evidence that a cruelty exists inside a private dwelling, we must obtain a search warrant to enter that dwelling.
If no remedy is available and it is necessary to remove the animal to prevent neglect or cruelty, the Humane Officer may do so. (We can remove farm animals or horses only upon the recommendation of a veterinarian.) If the owner agrees to remedy the situation to the satisfaction of the Officer, we may return the animal. However, if the owner does not want to cooperate, we will impound the animal. We must always notify the owner that he/she has the right to appeal the impoundment in a civil action with the District Court. Most owners do not go to court to try to get their animals back. However, when horses or valuable pedigreed pets are impounded, the owner is more likely to initiate court action.
In cases of serious neglect or deliberate mistreatment of an animal, SPCA/HS may bring criminal charges against an owner. Cruelty is punishable by a fine or jail time, or both, administered either per animal or per count. However, we handle most cases in a more practical manner.
Education and Assistance
Often the Humane Officer can educate and assist citizens to become responsible pet owners. Providing information or assistance (with spay/neuter, medical care, or food and shelter) can sometimes transform a neglectful situation into a happy relationship between the owner and the pet.
Where the long-term safety and happiness of the animal is unlikely, we may suggest the owner consider giving up the animal to SPCA/HS. If at all possible, we try to find new homes for such animals, partnering if necessary with other humane groups to assist in placement. Giving an animal a new lease on life is rewarding. It is also necessary to maintain the morale of the Humane Officer, who all too often must have an animal euthanized to relieve its suffering and misery.
Minimum Standards of Enforcement