Chesco man sues over raid to rescue animals

Chester County SPCA (www.ccspca.org)
Chester County SPCA (www.ccspca.org)
Posted: May 10, 2014

WEST CHESTER An East Bradford Township man is suing the Chester County SPCA and the District Attorney's Office, alleging that two shelter staff members falsely represented themselves as authorized humane officers during a raid at his house in which more than 20 of his animals were confiscated.

Larry Woodward of Bridge Road contends that his rights were violated when SPCA officials Christina Cain Pelosi and Craig Baxter, along with two police officers, came to his home April 22 with a search warrant.

Taken were seven dogs, one cat, ducks, a Catalina macaw, 11 chickens, a llama, and a sheep, according to court documents.

"They don't have the legal authority to do what they are doing," said Daniel A. Pallen, Woodward's lawyer.

"I feel everything was done legally and to the letter of the law," said Russ Harper, SPCA executive director.

Pallen said the District Attorney's Office was named in the suit, filed May 1 in federal court in Philadelphia, because it failed to ascertain whether Pelosi, a former Chester County and Philadelphia assistant district attorney, was a qualified humane officer.

Pelosi is not listed on the state's Humane Society Police Officer registry for Chester County or in a search of the county's prothonotary records, according to the suit.

Calls to the District Attorney's Office and Pelosi were not returned.

Pat Biswanger, SPCA board president, said Pelosi has not completed required state training, but was sworn in on an emergency basis by a county judge two days before the raid. Baxter is the shelter's dog warden and not a humane officer, she said.

On April 15, the SPCA received an anonymous tip reporting unsanitary conditions and dogs with matted fur.

Pelosi, the shelter's animal protective services coordinator, visited Woodward's home in plain clothes twice before the raid. She saw several Labradoodle puppies in a box with urine-soaked newspapers and feces, a macaw in a filthy cage, a duck with missing feathers and an open wound, and animals without water or food, according to court documents.

Harper said Woodward signed over the animals, but Pallen said Woodward acted under "duress."

"Our first duty is to the animals," said Biswanger. "If we have evidence they are being kept in deplorable, filthy conditions, we are going to do what we can to help them."

With the exception of the cat, which is still at the SPCA, the other animals have been placed with various rescue groups, according to Biswanger.

An application for a restraining order to keep the animals from being euthanized or moved out of the area was also filed, according to court documents.

Pallen said that Woodward was "very upset" by what has happened, that he is a "fine caretaker of his animals," and that there is no evidence of mistreatment.

"We want the animals back," said Pallen.


mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111 @MariSchaefer

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