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Challenging Careers: More than ‘just the dog catcher’

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“Animal cruelty lops over into other crimes,” maintains Chief Kenneth D. Ross of the Putnam County SPCA, which handles arrests involving cruelty to animals.

By law, each community has a dog control officer who issues fines on civil charges such as allowing nuisance barking or loose animals. Criminal procedures are handled, however, by peace officers charged with enforcing state animal cruelty laws and other crimes under state agriculture and markets laws.

Formerly with the Westchester SPCA, the Putnam chief recalls a case of beaten pit bulls, which the owner claimed he had to separate when they were locked in combat. While at the scene, Ross spotted 20 “dime bags” of marijuana and handcuffed the man, who was surprised to be arrested by “just the dog catcher.”

On call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Putnam County SPCA Chief Ken Ross goes after perpetrators of animal cruelty throughout the county.
On call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Putnam County SPCA Chief Ken Ross goes after perpetrators of animal cruelty throughout the county.

Then there was the Yonkers case of a 17-year-old who threw a cat from a 12th-floor window and served only eight months, being a minor. He later was involved in a gang shooting, eluded police and, thanks to the SPCA’s earlier investigation, was located and arrested.

“There’s lot of animal hoarding going on,” the chief reports, recalling a child referred to Child Protective Services because of regularly attending school smelling of cat urine. “I found the home in disarray, with feces accumulations and over 100 empty cat food cans in the child’s bedroom. The mother was arrested for child abuse. There were 29 cats – a low number,” he adds, recalling a Yorktown home boasting more than 200.

Ross responded to a Patterson home housing more than 70 snakes, 56 of them poisonous. “There was suspicion of suicide by snake bite,” the chief recalls. Reptile experts transported the snakes to the Bronx Zoo.

The arresting officer does not touch the animals, there to arrest what he terms “the two-legged ones.” He recalls spending four hours hospitalized after deviating from that practice and going hand-to-claws with an enraged cat.

Ross operates with the assistance of his son, Ken Ross III. “We are on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he reports. Calls often begin at 5 a.m. Some present an opportunity for education, like the call about a loose wild turkey near Putnam Hospital. “Wild life can go where it wants,” he told the caller.

The two Rosses weekend at tables outside stores, hold pancake breakfasts, address service clubs and teach at police academies. “We receive no funds except donations,” the senior Ross reports. “We are responsible for housing and medical care for the animals until the court date, when the owner loses custody if found guilty. Only then can animals be adopted.” The SPCA also uses funds for insurance, liability and vehicle expenses. The chief frequently has to clarify that the SPCA has no affiliation with the ASPCA, headquartered in Manhattan and serving the surrounding geographic area. “We receive no funds except donations,” he reiterates.

The SPCA has garnered a corps of volunteers who assist with fundraising, some trained in handling animals. “A few veterinarians provide services at discount or free,” he adds.

Ross, a recent widower, resides in Patterson. He was raised in Yonkers, graduated from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan and went on to attend Manhattan College, paying for his education by pumping gas. After working in security and investigation, he became a volunteer officer with the growing Westchester SPCA, ultimately heading its Humane Law Enforcement Division. He relocated to Putnam when a need for SPCA services there became critical.

Because of the demands of his job, Ross owns no animals. As he tells children about the animals’ need for constant care, “There are no switches to turn animals on and off.”

Challenging Careers focuses on the exciting and unusual business lives of Hudson Valley residents. Comments or suggestions may be emailed to Catherine Portman-Laux at cplaux@optonline.net.

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