PA Animal Community Mourns Voices Lost

Animal Welfare Advocates Speak for the Voiceless

It seems lately the many thousands of voiceless creatures of Pennsylvania are losing – at an alarming rate – those who spoke eloquently and powerfully for them.

It began in 2013 with the untimely death of Patti Bednarik, a Pittsburgh attorney and member of the Governor’s Dog Law Advisory Board, who was instrumental in educating lawyers about animal law and was a leader in the fight for stronger puppy mill laws.

In 2014 the animal community lost two longtime humane society police officers: Ron Smith, who brought animal abusers to justice in western Pennsylvania for 30 years and Keith Mohler of Lancaster, who was the first to win cruelty cases for abuse of farm animals and stood as a sentinel for all animals in the region for decades.

Since the beginning of this year alone three individuals who played major roles in making Pennsylvania a safer place for animals have died.

Cindy Stark, of Wilkes Barre, was responsible for transforming shelters in two Pennsylvania counties and as president of the Federated of Humane Societies, led efforts at shelter reform statewide.

Stark, a member of the Dog Law Advisory Board, spent 32 years working for SPCAs, including 14 years as manager at the York County SPCA and 18 years as manager at the Luzerne County SPCA. She was a humane society police officer and was instrumental in setting up and implementing training and continuing education programs for humane police officers. She mentored countless officers and shelter employees throughout her career and was the editor of the Blue Book, the handbook for all Pennsylvania humane society police officers.

Karel Minor, president of the Humane League of Pennsylvania, said Stark’s death last month at 62 is a great loss to the animal community.

“She was one of the generation of animal welfare professionals who presided over the shift in sheltering from being dead-end pounds to places where animals for real second chance,” he said. “In a field that is increasingly filled with those who have not faced the same serious hurdles as decades ago and can verge on being Polly Anna, Cindy remembered what our “industry” had been through and how far we have come. She was among those who could look optimistically ahead while being realistic about the past and present. “

For 30 years Erik Henderson stood at the helm of the state’s largest animal welfare organization, the Pennsylvania SPCA. Henderson, of Haverford, died last month at 71.

The shelter’s current chief, Jerry Buckley, said he transformed our organization from an animal shelter to a modern animal welfare institution by adding programs and departments to benefit animals’ behavior and health and expanding the shelter’s mission beyond Philadelphia. He brought awareness to the public that preventative health programs and spay and neuter programs for every animal were key to the pet overpopulation problem.

In the 1990s, Joe Taksel, as president of Mobilization for Animals played a central role in leading the battle to end the brutal massacre of pigeons at the annual Hegins pigeon shoot. He also was active in PETA and other organizations fighting against animal cruelty. Taksel died last month in Pittsburgh at 67.

Late last year one of the state’s most vocal advocates was temporarily sidelined by a serious health challenge. Tom Hickey Sr., of Chester County, a member of the Dog Law Advisory Board who was instrumental in the passage of the 2008 dog law and remains a passionate fighter for shelter animals, suffered a severe stroke in November. He has made tremendous progress in a short time his family reports and they have created a web page and blog “BeatStroke” to chart his recovery.

Another longtime voice for animals, Anne Irwin – a force for four decades is retiring from her post as head of the Bucks County SPCA in September. During her 43-year career she oversaw an expansion effort that added a second shelter in upper Bucks County in 2012 and expanded humane education and cruelty programs. She also implemented programs to help animals stay in their homes, such as offering temporary boarding during emergencies, donated pet food to food pantries and offered behavior training and hotline support for pet owners. Irwin also was a leader in the Federation of Humane Societies.

Anne says she will remain active in animal welfare issues.

Amy_WordenAmy Worden is a politics and government reporter for the Inquirer. In that capacity she has explored a range of animal protection issues from dog kennel law improvements and banning horse slaughter to the comeback of peregrine falcons and pigeon hunts. From hamsters to horses, animals have always been part of her life. To pass along a tip or contact Amy, click here. Reach Amy at


Categories: Animal cruelty, Animal shelters


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