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Humane officer says 'We have to speak for the animals'

Buck Hessler's job is his passion

August 13, 2010|By DANA BROWN
  • Buck Hessler,a Humane Society Police Officer for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., pets Rosa a Chihuahua he rescued from a trash bin in June.
Dana Brown, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- At 6 feet tall and 270 pounds, Buck Hessler is a big man. But his heart is even bigger.

Hessler is a Humane Society Police Officer for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter. His job is to investigate animal cruelty complaints.

During his five years as a humane officer, Hessler has helped more than 500 animals, 150 this year alone. On average, he responds to 25 calls per month, he said. In July, that number jumped to more than 40 calls, he said.

His job is also his passion.

"Every call, I take serious," he said. "If it's 2 a.m. and I get a call, I go. My main concern is to get that dog or cat out of a bad situation."

Animal neglect cases account for about 70 percent of his caseload, and physical abuse cases account for about 30 percent, Hessler said.

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Working part time -- about 20 hours a week -- for a nonprofit organization is not going to make him a rich man. But Hessler doesn't measure his pay in dollars and cents, but rather in the rewards of rescuing an animal from a harmful situation.

"Heart wise, you can't put a dollar sign on it" he said. "When I bring in an animal and it gets adopted out, that's what makes it rewarding."

Hessler didn't seek out this job. It found him.

He was approached by someone from the shelter who knew him and asked him to consider the job, he said. He accepted and went through specialized, hands-on training to become a certified court-appointed humane officer. He works closely with Pennsylvania State Police on animal cruelty investigations, he said. Because Hessler is one of only two humane officers serving Franklin County, state police often call on him for his expertise.

As a police officer, Hessler wears a uniform and a badge, but he doesn't carry a gun.

In most cases, he is not a welcome visitor at someone's door.

People often tell him he has no right to be on their property, Hessler said.

"But I do have the right to go up to someone's door," he said.

If they accuse him of trespassing, he just comes back with a search warrant, he said.

Twice, he has faced down the barrel of a gun, he said.

"I've had a few threats," Hessler said. "You have to be very careful out there."

Hessler said his priority during his investigations is to first evaluate the animal's situation. He will advise the animal owner of the complaint against them and issue a warning in some cases and only if the animal is not being physically abused.

"If they are cooperative, I'll do whatever I can to work with people," Hessler said. "I try to talk to people and educate them."

Jennifer Vanderau, communications director for Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, said the shelter's mission is to shelter, protect and find homes for the animal.

"Buck's job falls into protection," Vanderau said. "I don't know how he does it every day. He's out there seeing it first-hand."

Hessler follows up every warning he issues to make sure the situation has been rectified, he said. If he finds that the neglect is ongoing, his next step is to ask the owner to surrender ownership, and if they will not, he removes the animal and files cruelty to animals charges against them, he said.

Hessler said he encourages people to keep an eye out for all animals and to report abuse or neglect when they see it so the situation can be evaluated. Hessler said a caller's identity will remain confidential, but he encourages people to be willing to testify in court.

"If you see something, make the call, come forth," Hessler said. "I always tell them the animals cannot speak for themselves. We have to speak for the animals."

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