AR-News: (PA) Pit bulls in cruelty case are causing a dilemma

Animalara2003 at Animalara2003 at
Thu Nov 13 19:06:15 EST 2003

The Atlantic County SPCA is seeking custody of the dogs so that it can try to 
adopt them out.
By Rusty Pray
Inquirer Staff Writer
Leah Whitesell knows what to do about two men suspected in a pit-bull 
fighting operation, but what to do with the dogs she rescued is a tougher case to 
Whitesell, the animal-control officer for the Atlantic County Society for the 
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said yesterday she intends to charge Eric 
Bell of the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia and Michael Amaro of Clifton, 
N.J., with 22 counts each of animal cruelty, probably by the end of the week.
Whitesell found about 35 dogs last week, hungry, dehydrated and beat up, at a 
property in Mullica Township, a remote section of Atlantic County that 
authorities believe was used for illegal pit-bull fighting.
Fifteen of the dogs are licensed to Bell, who did not return messages left on 
his cell phone. Whitesell said Amaro is the owner of the property. He could 
not be reached for comment.
Whitesell will charge the two men with 22 counts because that is the number 
of dogs that remain after about 13 vanished from the property sometime between 
8:30 p.m. Nov. 4 - when Whitesell left - and 9 a.m. the next day, when she 
returned. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is offering a $2,500 reward 
for the return of the dogs.
Eleven dogs are being housed at the Atlantic County Animal Shelter, where 
they are taking up runs usually reserved for more adoptable dogs. The rest of the 
dogs are in private foster care.
Since the pit bulls are evidence in a criminal case, they can't be euthanized 
easily. Whitesell said it typically takes six months to a year for 
animal-cruelty cases to be resolved through the courts.
"That's our dilemma," Whitesell said. The animal shelter "does not have to 
hold these dogs for us. They realize the circumstances we removed them under, 
and they're helping us out."
If the shelter said it no longer could house the dogs, "I don't know what 
would happen," said Nancy Beall, president of the county SPCA. "I have no place 
to put them."
Whitesell and Beall were seeking an emergency forfeiture order from a 
municipal judge to gain custody of the dogs, "and then we can try to move them" to 
families willing to adopt or to emergency animal-rescue facilities, Whitesell 
"These dogs are not aggressive toward people," Whitesell said. "Some are 
extremely aggressive toward other dogs, so they can't be with other animals. But 
there are some adolescents who haven't been trained for fighting and are very 
adoptable. The majority could be placed."
The missing dogs are as much of a worry because "the sad part is, we're sure 
they were taken by the same type of people who were using them, and they'll be 
used for the same purpose," Beall said.
Whitesell went to the property Nov. 4 and removed 13 dogs, including four 
puppies. She left about 8:30 p.m. The Mullica Township police, who had responded 
to an anonymous tip, did not have the manpower to leave an officer there 
overnight, Whitesell said.
Besides the dogs, Whitesell said, "I found sufficient evidence on that 
property that either dog-fighting or a murder took place there. There was blood 
spattered everywhere, and there was enough dog medication that someone was trying 
to patch up or resuscitate dogs that had significant injuries."
Under state law, animal cruelty is punishable by a fine of $250 to $1,000 and 
jail time of no more than six months, or both, and community service.
Whitesell said that guilty pleas in animal-cruelty cases rarely result in 
jail time, and that she has sought jail time only on a couple of occasions in her 
13 years on the job in Atlantic County.

Contact staff writer Rusty Pray at 856-779-3894 or rpray at 

"I would not enter on my list of friends the man who needlessly sets foot 
upon a worm." - Cowper
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