Friday, May 18, 2007

Raid on Craig Russell's property

On March 21, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officers raided the property and home of SPPA President Craig Russell. One hundred fifty-four animals were seized. Seventeen charges of animal maltreatment were filed against Craig on March 28 in Snyder County Magisterial Court. A hearing date, originally set for May 14, has been set back to June 14.

The Russells are represented by counsel and are contesting all charges.
This picture of me and Craig, with SPPA Show Coordinator Don Cable in the foreground, was taken at the Crossroads of America Poultry Show in Indianapolis in November 2006.

The charges pertain to things such as moldy hay (he has it, but certainly wasn't feeding it to any of the animals). Other charges relate to a dog who had a plastic barrel for a doghouse, which they say is inadequate, and a ewe that has been crippled for years but has often been the first to the food and gives Craig a lamb or two every year.

Events unfolded as follows:

SPCA officers had visited Craig on March 1, but never got out of the truck. One of them indicated that he would call the following week to set up an appointment to do an inspection. Craig’s god-daughter died unexpectedly March 3. On March 5, Craig called the Danville SPCA shelter and informed them that he would be out of town for the funeral, but he would be available the following week. The person with whom he left that message thanked him and told him the manager would contact him then.

Craig did not hear from them again until the March 21 raid.

Two SPCA officers claim that they visited the farm March 7, conducted an inspection and talked to Ruth Russell, Craig’s wife. She never saw them, and they would have needed her permission to inspect the property. No meeting took place that day. The SPCA claims they gave Ruth oral instructions of required changes to avoid further action. A severe snow storm that day created near-blizzard conditions that would have made a visit difficult.

There is no documentation of any meeting or notice of required changes.

The SPCA claims that on a drive-by inspection March 20, they found that the required changes the Russells had never been informed of had not been made. That inspection was the basis for obtaining the search warrant used to raid the Russell property March 21.

The meeting on which the SPCA rests its claims never occurred. No inspection was ever made and no changes were ever requested.

The Russells have not been allowed to see their animals. The SPCA will not even tell them where the animals are being held. This includes two dogs, two cats and parrots that are pets.

Since the story hit the papers, Craig has had a lot of community support and has heard from others who have had animals seized and been accused of neglect and cruelty. The SPCA has appealed one case all the way to the state Supreme Court, even though all previous judges have found the charges baseless. In that case, the animals have not been returned after more than two years.

Whatever the SPCA's complaints, this should have been settled with a discussion or, at worst, a citation. In the event, SPCA workers, state police and an assistant DA arrived in force and spent hours going over the property, refusing Craig and Ruth access to their home until after 4 pm. They treated Craig and Ruth like criminals.

This extreme action suggests some personal or political agenda. It sounds paranoid, but this situation is really crazy. Craig is a great animal advocate and would never countenance maltreatment, much less be guilty of it.

The officers of SPPA stand behind the Russells. They are confident that all charges will be found baseless and all animals returned to home.

Messages of support and donations can be sent to the Russells at 1400 Jones Hill Road, Middleburg, PA 17842.

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