The SPCA’s pet detectives: Why don’t we just arm all the activists?

SPCA officials love to highlight such services as putting up pets for adoption, but they don’t like it when they get publicity on abuses such as their persecution of animal-lover Kate Decker.
Imagine if the state decided that the best way to enforce environmental laws was to give guns to Sierra Club members and let them arrest anyone they felt like – and keep the revenue from the fines.

You might start out with a bunch of do-gooders going after polluters. But before long anyone who wanted to carry a gun and shake down the public would be joining the club.

Even worse, no citizen could stop them. They’d have so much swag that they could employ lawyers and lobbyists to thwart any efforts at reform.

Nutty as that sounds, that’s the way New Jersey enforces its animal-cruelty laws.  And so far no one has been able to stop the “wannabe cops” from the New Jersey SPCA.

That term is from the latest State Commission of Investigation report on the group. That report, titled  “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing – The NJSPCA 17 years later” – reads like a reprint of the commission’s 2000 report.

That report referred to the state and county SPCA chapters as “gun clubs” staffed by characters looking for an easy way to get their hands on a carry permit. It called for repealing the antiquated 1868 law that lets pet detectives carry guns.

That report was ignored by the 120 members of the state Legislature for a couple of reasons. One was the aforementioned swag spread around by the SPCA. The other was the simple fact that there are a lot of animal lovers out there who actually like the idea of pistol-packing private citizens running around the state harassing animal owners.

Most of these animal-lovers are well-meaning sorts, but all of them need to read that report. The chapter headings alone give a good idea of what these wolves have been feeding on: “Exorbitant Legal Bills,” Wannabe Cops,” “An Insiders Game” and perhaps most important: “Lack of Accountability.”

Just like that mythical armed Sierra Club chapter I imagined, these guys are accountable only to themselves. They sit around and give themselves titles like “Sergeant” and “Colonel” and assign themselves cars that most citizens would mistake for police cruisers. They acquire SWAT team outfits and even picked up a massive military surplus truck.

Then they do things like they did to Theresa “Tee” Carlson in 2014, when they raided the shelter she ran in Hunterdon County. They hauled the then-84-year-old woman off in handcuffs.  This was all part of a scheme to get their hands on the shelter’s $5 million budget, said Vic Rotolo, the lawyer who defended her.

“The way she was treated by the NJSPCA was appalling,” said Rotolo. “What is the state of New Jersey waiting for? For someone to get killed by them?”

Apparently so.  The report mentions that the SCI investigation found “substantial – in some cases criminal – wrongdoing.” But who will prosecute any alleged crimes?

I ran that by the state Senate’s leading animal-welfare proponent, Democrat Ray Lesniak of Union County. My first question was about that why the NJSPCA needs that 10-wheeled assault vehicle.

“What happens if a rhino gets loose?” Lesniak joked. “If a rhino gets loose, they may have to use it.”

Lesniak was the author a 2006 bill that was supposed to reform the NJSPCA. But the report said that the statute failed to curb the NJSPCA.

“They said it was ineffective,” Lesniak said. “But it was ineffective because the reforms weren’t followed by either the Governor or the Attorney General.”

Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that the obvious cure is in the hands of the Legislature. That’s repeal of that 1868 law.

The report noted that every municipality already has to have an animal-control officer. There’s no need for a private group doing what the public official already does, the report said.

Lesniak said that he will call for hearings on what is often mistakenly called a “private, non-profit” group.

The NJSPCA is certainly private. But it lost its status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit more than three years ago for failure to submit reports to the IRS. But it’s still collecting donations. (SPCA officials say the status has been restored since its suspension earlier this year.)

That alone should be reason to tell the wannabe cops they can’t be what they wanna be.

But if we’re going to hold hearings, let me suggest this agenda: The members of every advocacy group in the state will get a chance to argue that they deserve to carry guns.

I can’t wait to hear Jeff Tittel argue that he should be able to pack a .45 so he can go shake down Exxon/Mobil and keep the swag for the Sierra Club.

Second thought, maybe not.

This state is so nutty they might let him.


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