Final Say: Q&A with Ernest Lungary, Director of th Humane Law Enforcement Division of the Socity for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Westchester
Ernest Lungaro, Director of the Humane Law Enforcement Division of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Westchester
Photo by John rizzo
Are you an animal lover?
I am—growing up, we always had dogs and cats from a shelter. And right now, I have a four-year-old female German shepherd named Muse.
You’ve been in this position almost a year. What type of work did you do before that?
I had a twenty-year career in the New York Police Department, working primarily in narcotics and anti-crime.
How is what you’re doing now similar to your work as a police officer?
In both instances, I work to protect the helpless.
You must see some very disturbing things. How do you deal with it?
Being a professional, my training kicks in. You always feel for the animals, but you have to get over the emotional part, because getting overemotional won’t help anyone.
What is your main responsibility?
To prevent animal cruelty, primarily through education and promoting awareness. We also lead a specific effort to combat dog fighting.
What should someone do if he or she suspects that an animal is being abused or neglected?
Call our twenty-four hour hotline at 914-941-7797; it is confidential. When in doubt, call.
How many and what kinds of calls come through the hotline?
We get about two thousand calls every year. Common calls involve sick animals not being taken to a vet, dogs left outside in the winter with no water, and dogs left inside hot cars in the summer. Sometimes the owners just have to be educated; they think if they crack the windows open there will be enough air—but there isn’t.
Do you carry a gun?
Yes, I am required to. But I’ve never had to use it.
Is dog fighting in Westchester really a big problem?
Yes. It ranges from two guys meeting up, usually with pit bulls, to a more organized underground network in different locations with gambling. These are the same people who are involved in the narcotics trade, and often they are gang members. We’re offering a five -thousand-dollar reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dog fighting.
Can the animals rescued from dog fighting be helped?
Our trainers are excellent and have a very good success rate in rehabilitating these dogs so they can be adopted.
What did you think of football player Michael Vick’s case? Was justice served?
Two and a half years in jail doesn’t seem long enough.
For what kinds of issues other than dog fighting are arrests made?
The owner of a small dog came home to find someone had duct-taped the dog to a bedpost about six feet off the ground. It was touch and go, but the dog survived and the police were able to make an arrest. And last summer during one of those one -hundred-degree days, a dog was locked in a car and we couldn’t locate the owner, so we had to break the window to get him out. The owner was arrested for animal cruelty.
What about so-called ‘cat ladies’? Is that a problem?
Having large litters can lead to neglect. I recently removed seventeen cats from one owner, and I’ve heard of people owning up to sixty cats in a one-bedroom apartment.