I commend Finger Lakes Times reporter Mike Hibbard for his compelling, in-depth, and captivating three-part series detailing allegations of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, as well as negligent care ranging from rotten food to shoddy medical services. , at Freedom Village USA.
While this facility, which opened in Yates County in 1981, closed in 2019, there are undoubtedly other juvenile residential facilities elsewhere where residents are subjected to the same kinds of horrors as young people. have lived in this local establishment. That’s why the Freedom Village Experience team launched the “We Warned Them” campaign to support legislation and policies that would help prevent the abuses that are rampant in under-regulated facilities across America. The team also recognizes the important role of the news media in exposing wrongdoing in these places.
the Finger Lakes Time The series reveals that places like Freedom Village, in the United States, will do everything possible to prevent disclosure or interference with the terrible things that often happen in such facilities. Institutions for minors are just one example. The same can be said about too many of our correctional facilities, nursing homes and institutions housing people with serious mental or developmental disabilities.
The same can be said of animal research labs, puppy mills, slaughterhouses, and other places where helpless animals are subjected to untold cruelties.
For many years of Freedom Village USA hurting its students, the Humane Society of Yates County was fighting an uphill battle in its efforts to get Yates County law enforcement to hold the puppy mill industry responsible.
I was unaware of the abuse at Freedom Village until I read the Hibbard articles. Likewise, I was unaware of the puppy mill situation in Yates County until I read a letter to the editor published in the Penn Yan. Chronicle-Express on June 25, 2003. The letter was written by then HSYC Vice President Michele Scarpechi VanCoppenolle, describing her visit to an unlicensed puppy mill in Milo. She observed “about 60 small-breed dogs housed in a cold, dirty barn. They lived in undersized homemade rabbit-like cages that were lined up against the barn wall. There were four to five dogs in each cage. The dogs stood on wire covered with feces. They had no bedding. The barn was unheated and the dogs were shivering with cold. The cages were so small that the dogs head hit the wire on top of the cage.
“The dogs that would normally have white fur were dark brown, stained with feces and urine. The dogs had very matted fur. Some had bald patches. There were two dogs that had eye infections that caused the closing their eyes. The dogs nails were so long that they curled like tiny fangs and pushed into the pads of their feet,” VanCoppenolle wrote.
Many puppy mill dogs are “debarked,” which means steel rods or scissors are rammed down a dog’s throat to destroy the vocal cords, usually without anesthesia or a veterinarian.
The puppy mill owner gave VanCoppenolle a barked dog that looked like a frog when she tried to bark. The dog also had a grapefruit-sized hernia on her abdomen caused by so many forced pregnancies. She was blind from untreated eye infections.
The Yates County Sheriff’s Office declined to arrest the owner for animal cruelty. When the Humane Society filed formal cruelty charges, the case was not pursued by the district attorney’s office. The puppy mill owner was even allowed to keep the dogs.
Over the years I have failed in my attempts to persuade Yates County Sheriff Ronald Spike to shut down unlicensed dog breeding facilities. A succession of district attorneys declined to prosecute the puppy mill cases. To my knowledge, no puppy mill operator has ever been arrested or prosecuted for animal cruelty in Yates County.
Compared to Monroe, Ontario, and Wayne counties, Yates County has a very poor record in preventing animal cruelty or apprehending and prosecuting people who violate state laws prohibiting animal abuse. such cruelty.
Many years ago, the HSYC had its own Certified Cruelty Investigator and had a task force to document puppy mill abuses and raise public awareness of these abuses. In recent years, however, while HSYC runs a good animal shelter and adoption program, it no longer has a cruelty investigator or puppy mill task force.
In a September 23, 2017 letter to Yates County Sheriff Spike, I wrote, “I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in urging you to improve the way you handle animal crimes, which are also worthy of moral and legal consideration. I believe that God and Jesus hear their cries of pain and want us to protect them from harm. But since animals can’t call 911 for help, we have to go the extra mile on their behalf.
The Puppy Mill situation in Yates County and the abuse of Freedom Village students when it operated in Yates County are symptoms of the same evils, including the abuse of power that exists when victims – whether animals or vulnerable people – cannot protect themselves. against cruelty and exploitation. This is why reading the FLT series on Freedom Village USA has strengthened my resolve to continue my advocacy on behalf of vulnerable people and animals.
Because cruelty is usually directed at the helpless, animal abuse and abuse of vulnerable people often go hand in hand. Many of the worst crimes against people have been committed by people with a history of animal cruelty. We must firmly oppose injustice and cruelty wherever it exists (this now includes the need to fully support Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s horrific aggression).
Canandaigua resident Joel Freedman contributes essays and book reviews to the Finger Lakes Weather often.