Putnam SPCA combats cruelty
Despite a love of dogs and a full-time job dedicated to helping animals, Ken Ross Jr. has no pets.
“That would be cruel,” said Ross, chief of the Putnam County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). “Having a pet is a full-time job, and I just wouldn’t be home enough.”
Ross isn’t at home much because each year he and his son, SPCA Det. Sgt. Ken Ross III, answer more than 2,500 calls, many from the 24-hour hotline set up for residents to report suspected animal abuse (845-520-6915).
On April 30, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Paulette’s in Cold Spring will host a coffee with the officers.
Ross Jr., 66, began working for the Westchester SPCA in 2005; his son joined him a year later. The senior Ross established the Putnam County SPCA in 2011 when he moved to Mahopac.
“He saw what I do is dangerous, and he wanted to have my back,” Ross said of his son. The dangers typically involve pet owners. “We deal with the same people who commit all the other crimes,” Ross said. “When I knock, the person behind the door doesn’t know if I have a warrant for their arrest for something else.”
SPCA officers are armed and have the authority to enforce any state law, but Ross said he prefers to educate first-time offenders rather than immediately pressing charges. “If an owner leaves a dog out in the cold, we’ll ask them to bring it inside, make them aware of the law,” Ross said.
A relatively minor offense such as that is classified as a violation, though it can send the owner to the county jail for up to 15 days if convicted.
Related Story: More Pets Being Abandoned
More serious abuse or neglect of an animal is a Class A misdemeanor, while killing an animal or intending to cause death or protracted mistreatment is a felony.
Ross investigated a case in Putnam Valley where a woman’s live-in boyfriend killed her three chihuahuas and a ferret. “We had no crime scene, no bodies,” he recalled. “But because he admitted killing the animals, and because in New York animals are viewed as property, we got four felony convictions for criminal mischief,” resulting in a six-year prison sentence.
Ross has seen cruelty cases involving horses, feral cats, deer, Canada geese, snakes, squirrels, illegal hunting and birds.
In domestic violence cases, he said the offender often uses an animal to control or hurt the person the offender is abusing. “We had a case where the guy smashed a bird cage, killing the bird,” Ross recalled.
He does not see a typical profile among animal abusers. “It runs the gamut,” he said. “But every serial killer started by abusing animals and the kids that do the high school shootings started with abusing animals.”
Because they have full law-enforcement authority, SPCA officers often aid people, as well. Recently Ross answered a call about a dog left outside on a bitter cold day. A 9-year-old girl dressed in short sleeves answered the door.
“She said her parents were at work; she had been alone for hours,” he said. “We called Child Protective Services.”
Such cases are not uncommon when they respond to tips on animal abuse. When asked to go to a home by the Town of Kent Police, Ross found four emaciated dogs: a German Shepherd in the yard, two chihuahuas in a shed and a boxer in the garage.
The owner said that when her 26-year-old autistic son spontaneously ran into the backyard, the German Shepherd would “take him down.” She was using the dog to control her son, said Ross, who arrested the woman. Adult Protective Services took custody of her son.
Where to Report Animal Cruelty
Putnam County SPCA
spcaputnam.org | 845-520-6915
Dutchess County SPCA
dcspca.org | 845-452-7722 x417
When caught mistreating animals, the abuser’s reaction varies. “Some people are dead set that they didn’t do anything wrong,” Ross said. “Others say: ‘It’s only an animal.’” He said serious abusers rarely show remorse. “When it’s really bad, you have to make the arrest because it’s gone way past education.”
Asked if most animal abuse is intentional or simply benign neglect, he said, “It runs down the middle.”
Economic circumstances can be a factor. If the SPCA comes across a badly emaciated animal whose owner is out of work, out of money and can’t afford to feed the animal, the agency has vendors who provide food and volunteers who deliver it, he said.
Some people, he said, don’t understand the effect of their actions. During hot summer weather, the SPCA patrols parking lots, looking for pets inside vehicles. “It can be 140 degrees in there,” Ross said. “We try to work with people, to tell them animals can’t stay in those conditions.”
Ross and his son cover all of Putnam County, assisted by volunteers who include a district attorney investigator and part-time Fishkill police officer, a retired code enforcement officer and retired police officers from Yonkers, Peekskill, New York City and Brewster.
Putnam County contributes $64,000 annually to the SPCA and provides it with an office in Carmel. The Town of Carmel adds a $10,000 annual grant. “We operate on a shoestring budget and donations are always needed,” Ross said.
It’s about time.