One of the first things heard when walking through the Montgomery County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are the whimpers and cries of homeless animals who are waiting to be placed in the loving homes they deserve. Each animal has a story and a past that the staff of the shelter must be prepared to face in order to secure these animals a safe and healthy future.
“We do see a lot of horrible things,” Carmen Ronio, executive director of the Montgomery County SPCA, said. “We see a lot of good things, but we do see horrible things.”
Ronio takes pride in showing off the many empty cages that fill the rooms which is a sight rarely seen in animal shelters. According to Ronio, since the shelter opened in 1959, there has been a decreasing number of homeless animals in the county.
When Ronio started working at the shelter in 1971, the shelter saw over 25,000 animals a year, compared to what the shelter sees now which is little over 10,000 a year.
“It is extremely rare for us to get a puppy in here, very rare,” Ronio said. “When I started here, it wasn’t unusual to see 50 or 60 puppies, so we have made a difference in Montgomery County.”
The Montgomery County SPCA is comprised of three shelters located in Conshohocken, Perkiomenville and Abington. “We have plenty of space,” Ronio said. “We never put an animal down because of room.”
“We are an organization that is open 24 hours a day and we have emergency vehicles here. If an animal needs help or a stray or an injured animal is found, we have two veterinarians on call,” Ronio said.
Ronio shared some of the many stories that have touched his heart while working at the shelter. The first was about a full-grown Rottweiler named Bear who was found starving to death in a backyard weighing in at only 48 lbs.
“He was unadoptable in every respect because he was people aggressive, so he stayed here,” Ronio said. “He got along with my staff, but would not go with anyone because of behavior.”
The shelter kept Bear for seven years until he passed away from liver disease. He was about nine years old and weighed a healthy 140 lbs.
“Another dog that broke my heart was a dog that we named Fang,” Ronio said. “We seized 105 animals from an animal collector and Fang was in this 900 square foot house with 90 some cats.”
The case took almost six years to settle. All of the animals were adopted out to new homes except for Fang because of aggressiveness, most likely caused by neglect.
“Fang was more of our kennel mascot dog,” Ronio said. “He had his own bed and room and the staff exercised him every day.”
Ronio went on about the strong relationship between Fang and his trainer, Harry Peterson. Peterson would take Fang for walks and the dog would actually let people touch him.
“The fact that this dog was so aggressive, and if you see his eyes looking at the trainer, you can just see the gratitude in his eyes,” Ronio said.
Fang passed away from natural causes. “The last three years of his life were perfect,” Ronio said.
Another dog, Rain, who was rescued by the shelter, was brutally beaten by a 10 year old boy. Rain suffered from a broken pelvis as well as a broken hip.
“We had surgery done on her and it cost us $3,700,” Ronio said. “We saved her.” Rain stayed with the shelter for about two months before finally being adopted.
Ronio mentioned that he currently has some animals in the shelter that were poisoned by their owner with rat poison. The shelter seized 28 cats and one dog.
“Unfortunately, we lost 12 of the cats to the rat poison despite all of our efforts,” Ronio said. “The only way you can treat rat poisoning is through vitamin K injections, which we started immediately. It was a slow process for them to get rid of it out of their systems. What happens is while this is going on, their immune system is dying off because they are not eating,” Ronio said. “We are giving them fluids, but it’s almost like an avalanche of problems, so we start losing them.”
Ronio is hopeful that no more of these animals will be lost.
When asked about the largest amount of animals rescued at once, Ronio shared the story of confiscating over 300 animals. Animals of all breeds were rescued from an animal dealer in Limerick.
“I’m talking dogs, cats, peacocks, deer, snakes, wild boar, a pony, we took all of them and placed all of them,” Ronio said.
Ronio went on to describe the horrifying site. “The rabbits were cannibalizing each other,” Ronio said.
The animal dealer was prosecuted and never allowed to own another animal again. He claimed that he was able to take care of the animals with one person a week and a net expense of $70 for feed.
“We get a lot of pit-bulls in here from Norristown and a lot of those dogs are unadoptable, because they have been involved in street fighting,” Ronio said. “Some of them have wounds on them that prohibit us from adopting them out.”
State law requires that the shelter not let an animal out with wounds of unknown origin unless it has been quarantined for six months.
“We are not going to keep an animal here for six months that has been involved in animal fighting that cannot be rehabbed from being aggressive with people or other animals,” Ronio said. “That animal, if it is a stray, will only stay here for seven days as a stray and then be destroyed, which is the toughest part.”
The shelter cannot adopt out an animal that cannot be rehabbed. If that happens, other animals, as well as people, could be in danger.
“A lot of pit-bulls that we get in that do not have wounds are evaluated and our trainer comes in and works with that dog to try and get the aggressiveness out,” Ronio said. “These dogs are people dogs and they only turn when they are trained to be aggressive.”
When asked how the Cabrini College community can help the SPCA, Ronio said that people are welcome to visit the shelter to see how the animals are handled, which is a good place to start. The shelter is always open to volunteer services. Funds are also needed to keep the shelter up and running. Ronio also stressed the importance of adoption over purchasing from pet shops.
“Don’t go to pet shops to get pets because you are only feeding puppy mills,” Ronio said.
“I guess the driving force that we always held true was that the animals come first before anything else,” R onio said.
To find out more about the Montgomery County SPCA, as well as information on how to donate and volunteer, visit montgomerycountyspca.org.