Activists say people are abandoning their dogs in Pennsylvania woods

Alfred Lubrano
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — A small but growing number of dogs are being abandoned in and around a wooded section of the West Mount Airy area of Philadelphia — some of them found tied to trees or stakes.

A few other dogs, as well as cats, are being dumped in other locations in Northwest Philadelphia, according to activists.

The spate of creatures being discarded has worn on such people as Aminda Edgar, 45, a volunteer with the citywide nonprofit Green Street Rescue, which helps people adopt stray and homeless cats. She's also created her own nonprofit Familiar Hearts Animal Society, which finds foster and permanent homes for abandoned dogs and cats.

Animal activist Aminda Edgar walks her dog, Todd, in Carpenter's Woods in Mount Airy, where people have been abandoning their pets. (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

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"It's truly an issue," Edgar said, "and more overwhelming this summer."

At least four abandoned dogs were discovered between April and June in Carpenter's Woods, a thickly treed, 37-acre slice of Wissahickon Valley Park, said Edgar, compared with three found there all of last year. A few dead dogs also have been found recently, one in a box covered by a raincoat.

Meanwhile, 11 other abandoned dogs and cats were found in spots near Carpenter's Woods within the last two years, compared with five between 2015 and 2020, Edgar said.

On Friday morning, Edgar was informed that a "super-cute" pit bull had been discovered tied to a tree near a bridge in Wissahickon Valley Park. She hurried out to investigate.

Still more rejected animals who have not yet been cataloged are loose in the area, animal experts say.

"There's a mind-set, often with dogs, of 'I can't take care of him. Let me set him free,'" said Samantha Holbrook, president of Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia, a nonprofit that offers assistance to people looking to give up their animals because they can't afford care.

"But these are domesticated animals used to being given food and water, and not able to survive in the woods."

Often, they're not spayed or neutered, meaning that those abandoned animals will continue to reproduce.

It's unusual to see abandoned animals in financially well-off areas such as West Mount Airy, experts say.

It's more common in low-income neighborhoods, Holbrook said. In 2018, the city's main shelter, the Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia, took in seven strays from well-off Chestnut Hill and six from Old City; it collected 272 from North Philadelphia and 240 from Kensington.

ACCT Philly didn't respond to requests for updated information.

In low-income areas, many owners can't afford to spay or neuter animals, Holbrook said. Also, impoverished areas are "veterinary deserts," experts say, often devoid of pet care. People who face eviction often can't find a place for their animals. And, experts say, some owners believe that if they can't look after their animals, it's better to let them loose — some of them in well-off areas.

"It's possible they feel that someone with resources will find the animal and help," said Mary Elizabeth Rauktis, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on human-animal interactions.

This is not to say that people across the economic spectrum aren't guilty of animal abandonment, Edgar explained.

"We were able to get a person's name and Main Line address from the microchip in a dumped cat once," she explained. "When we contacted the person, they said, 'It's not my cat.'

"'That's not what the chip says,' I told them. "But they never admitted anything."

In Northwest Philadelphia, many of the abandoned dogs are pit bulls, or pit bull terriers, said Chris Switky, a certified dog trainer in West Mount Airy. Some appear to have been used to fight, or to breed, he said.

The increase in abandonment comes as animal rescue groups also are reporting an influx of unwanted pets. In some cases, people who sought animal companions during the height of the pandemic have now gone back to work and don't have the time or inclination to care for their pets any longer.

"Some people are desperate, and think by dumping animals, they give them a chance for life in the outdoors," said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, a Bethesda, Md., organization working to protect cats.

"But it's a cruelty, not a relocation. And it's illegal."

The animals' suffering tears at Edgar and others in the area who have worked with her to initiate rescues.

Because she's been on call to rescue animals for more than a decade, she's well-known among animal lovers who will tag her on Facebook, text, or call her to inform her of the whereabouts of the latest creature left in the heat or cold.

One fortunate result of her diligence is the rescue of a 70-pound brindle pit bull, originally nicknamed Johnny Marr, after the Smiths guitarist. He was found in Carpenter's Woods on April 30, dragging a leash he had chewed up after apparently being tied to a tree, Edgar said. He was suffering from a massive skin allergy from fleas.

He's since healed and the "sweet meatball," as Edgar affectionately calls him, was adopted on June 3 and lives with a family in Laverock. They renamed him Biggie.

In another happy ending, Bravo, a domestic short-hair silver tabby, was found on April 15 in a creek bed near Valley Green Inn in Fairmount Park, Edgar said. Underweight and frightened, Bravo had likely lived in the area the entire winter, a veterinarian told Edgar, who trapped Bravo.

Having gained nearly six pounds, Bravo currently lives in a foster home.

That's gratifying to Edgar, but she acknowledges it's nearly impossible to stop the abandonment of cats and dogs.

"It's tough," Edgar said. "And when it keeps happening, people tell me the same thing: 'This is terrible. What's wrong with people?'"