A Jonestown woman says she’s gotten an “outpouring of support” from the community since the Pennsylvania SPCA raided her shelter and seized nearly 100 dogs and cats.
“The people who know what I’ve done for years have been amazing,” said Greta Rank, owner of Grrs & Purrs at 314 Fort Swatara Road.
However, a PSPCA official said last week the investigation into Rank’s operation is continuing – and charges are likely to be filed against her soon.
Acting on a tip, the PSPCA executed a search warrant on Oct. 23, removing 83 cats and 10 dogs from the property due to “concerns for the unsanitary conditions of the property and the untreated medical conditions of the animals,” according to a statement from the agency.
Humane law enforcement officers, working with Lebanon County detectives, also found five dead cats—including one that was badly decomposed—in an enclosure with other rescued cats, according to the release.
Rank, 63, said she was reluctant to speak to a reporter because she feared reprisals from the animal welfare agency.
“I don’t know what charges are being filed,” she said Oct. 29. “I don’t want to speak out because I don’t want to make things worse for myself.”
However, Rank agreed to be interviewed, saying she is heartbroken about the loss of the animals and the damage that’s been done to her reputation.
“The dead cats – I didn’t know they were dead,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “They were in a fenced enclosure.”
Rank said she is trying to clean up her property to meet Humane Law requirements so she can continue rescuing and boarding animals, which she has been doing for close to 40 years.
“I’m just trying to do what I need to do to keep going, to figure out what’s wrong, what I need to fix,” she said.
“My heart says, keep going,” she added. “My gut is very, very afraid.”
Rank said a volunteer who came to the shelter only a few times took photos and reported her to the SPCA.
“I feel like I was set up. It’s a hard lesson to learn,” she said. “It’s just been awful. … So now I’m very, very afraid to let other volunteers unsupervised.”
PSPCA officials said in a statement Oct. 24 that many of the cats were “suffering from both respiratory infections and untreated eye conditions.” Many of the dogs were “very thin,” the release says, and many animals were living in kennels or enclosures “with feces and urine which had been allowed to accumulate for days.”
The animals were taken to the PSPCA’s Philadelphia headquarters for treatment.
Nicole Wilson, PSPCA’s director of Humane Law Enforcement, confirmed on Oct. 31 that there are still charges against Rank pending, however Rank does already face several summary charges related to the kennel provisions of Pennsylvania’s Dog Law.
Investigators must determine “the full extent of the injuries or ailments” the animals taken from Rank’s property have sustained, Wilson said. State laws allow for different charges depending on the severity of the offense, she explained.
It will probably be “a couple of weeks” before additional charges are filed, she said.
Wilson acknowledged it’s possible the conditions of some animals improved while in Rank’s care. However, she said, “nobody can deny that, no matter what the condition of the animals at intake, the physical conditions of the property were her responsibility.”
Animals pens “were filthy,” Wilson said. She said Rank admitted that, for instance, a pen holding more than 40 cats hadn’t been cleaned for at least four days.
“You need to clean your animal enclosures daily,” she said. “When you have free-roaming spaces with cats of that number, you have to be responsive to their needs. We found multiple deceased cats in that space, some of whom had significantly decomposed. … A cat doesn’t decompose to the point of sticking to the surface in just a few days.”
Rank still has supporters, however – some of whom have been openly critical of the PSPCA on social media.
Linda Focht, of East Hanover Township, said she adopted a dog from Rank, and she and a neighbor sometimes take donations to Rank’s shelter.
“Every time we’ve gone over, she was always busy with the animals,” Focht said. “She spends all her time and money on those animals. She lives for those animals.”
Focht said people “continually dump animals” on Rank’s property, and Rank always does her best to take care of them.
The PSPCA, Focht said, “should have come in and provided some help” rather than seizing animals and charging Rank with cruelty or neglect.
“She was overwhelmed. She needs help and donations,’ Focht said. “Doing that to her without notice – she was devastated. She really cared for those animals.”
Megan Saylor of Fredricksburg agreed.
“She’s been doing it for many, many years. She doesn’t turn any animal away,” she said. “I guess that was the problem. Everything she does revolves around the animals.”
Saylor said the PSPCA’s description of conditions in Rank’s kennels was unfair.
“They came before the morning chores were done,” she complained. “She had just started cleaning the kennels.”
Rank is “always looking to help people, to help animals,” Saylor added. “That’s why this breaks my heart. She means well.”
Although nearly 100 animals were taken, Rank said the PSPCA left her with 16 dogs and 59 cats, which she is still caring for on her property.
Some of the animals are in shelters or in her home, Rank said. Others are free-roaming on her property.
All of them have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated, she said. Many have been microchipped. Some, she noted, have been adopted out since the incident on Oct. 23.
Wilson explained that some animals were left behind because the law permits rescue organizations to seize only animals “that are evidence of a crime.”
“We only take the animals that are being maintained in violation of the law,” she said. “The law doesn’t permit us to go in and seize everything.”
If Rank is convicted of even one count of animal cruelty, “she would not be legally allowed to obtain a kennel license for a minimum period of 10 years,” Wilson said.
“That’s not my decision, a judge would make that determination,” she said. “I’m not saying she’s a bad person. I’m saying she took on more than she could provide under the minimum standards of the law.”
Rank said she started rescuing animals “very quietly” in 1979, formalizing the shelter as a nonprofit organization in 2012.
She plans to hire an attorney to fight the charges.
If she loses her license, Rank said it’s unlikely she’ll start up the business again.
“I’m 63 years old,” she said. “Ten years from now, I can’t be doing this.”
In the meantime, she said, “I will continue to take care of who’s here. I will try to get them adopted out.”
The PSPCA asks anyone with information on this case or others involving animal cruelty to call their hotline at 866-601-SPCA. Tips can be left anonymously.
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