Brittney Chuyko, Lehigh County Humane Officer Sanctuary at Haafsville, Breinigsville Nominated by Patti Stimpfl
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question asked so often throughout childhood but easily one of the most difficult to answer. It’s rare to discover a passion so early in life that will carry through and become a career, but for those people who do, they are certainly among the lucky ones. Brittney Chuyko, 25, of Northampton was only 12 when she started volunteering at an animal shelter and 13 years later, as of December 2014, she is a Humane Officer for the Sanctuary at Haafsville in Lehigh County.
“It’s always been my dream to be a humane police officer,” says Chuyko. Born and raised in Allentown, she grew up living with her mom, aunt, grandparents, and many pets. “We had dogs, cats; I had a hamster, a hermit crab.”
When she was 12, Chuyko said she got bored at home and needed something to do. “I was too young for a job and I didn’t really hang out with friends, so I wanted to volunteer. I started at Linda Ann’s Greyhound Rescue [in Allentown]. I helped with the transports, cleaning up the dogs, with the adoption days, some paperwork.”
She spent four years there before moving on to Peaceable Kingdom to get more hands-on experience with different breeds as well as cats. There she met Liz Jones, whom she credits to teaching her everything she needed to know.
RIGHT: Blinky, one of Chuyko’s blind cats. She says the blind ones are her favorite. “I think they have better personalities than cats with eyes.”
“If not for Liz, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Chuyko. She shadowed Jones and learned how to draw blood, vaccinate and inject, run IVs, administer medication, and more, all of which Chuyko says you don’t need to be formally certified to do.
Chuyko graduated from Northampton High School in 2008 and briefly considered entering a vet tech program at LCCC, but she realized the extra schooling wasn’t really necessary for what she wanted to do. She just had to find the right way to do it.
Around four years ago, she and Jones left together to head over to the Sanctuary at Haafsville, where Chuyko currently works. In the spring of 2014, the Sanctuary paid for her to attend training to become a humane police officer.
“Where I am today … I wanted to be a humane officer, but I never thought I would be because of the money it takes for the training,” she said. “I’m so grateful I’ve been able to do this.”
So what is the job exactly? Chuyko said it’s often confused with animal control, which deals primarily with strays, rabies, and licensing issues. Humane officers are more along the lines of what one might see while watching the Animal Planet show, “Animal Cops.”
“In Pennsylvania, humane societies and SPCAs have the authority to employ Humane Society Police Officers who are trained and court appointed to enforce one section of the PA Crimes Code: Section 5511, which deals with cruelty to animals.” [www.humaneinpa.org] Chuyko attended four days of lectures and training in Harrisburg, then another four days of hands-on field training in State College. She was sworn in four months ago and hit the ground running.
“Basically, if someone thinks they’re seeing an issue of neglect or abuse, they can call me and I investigate,” Chuyko explained. “During the winter, it was call after call after call; people complaining that their neighbors’ dogs were being left outside in the cold. Sometimes it is a problem situation, other times it’s just neighbors hating neighbors.”
Unfortunately, it is not illegal for animals to be left outside in the state of Pennsylvania as long as their basic needs are met; no matter how rudimentary a dog house it may be, it’s still shelter.
“Now if I investigate a case and an animal has water but it’s frozen, I can tell the owner that there’d better be fresh, drinkable water when I come back, but that’s about all I can do,” said Chuyko.
Her very first case came from a call about dogs being left outside, but what they found was an even bigger surprise—by the time they arrived to the scene, the folks in question had left and abandoned 92 chickens in addition to the dogs. Chuyko said it’s one of her most memorable cases so far: “We had to wrangle them up. Holding them upside-down by the feet looked a little like abuse to me, but when you do that, they stop struggling.”
Luckily, the chickens all got happy endings and made their way to new farm homes.
Another of her cases toward the beginning of her experience was an abandonment case where six cats were left behind. It wound up being a bit of a shock to her system. “We had to bust the door down, so that was exciting,” she said. “I’d never really witnessed an abandoned house before. The smell … their living conditions were just awful. Inches of feces on the ground, moldy food. They were surrendered though and found new homes.”
Chuyko’s capabilities are somewhat limited. If she requests to see someone’s dog based on a report she receives and the subject refuses, she cannot force her way in. She has to get the local police involved instead.
“The cops have more control,” she said. “We work closely with one of the state troopers. The cops should always be your back-up anyway, because you never know what could happen. I always tell people where I’m going, just in case.”
Chuyko also does a handful of other odd jobs for the Sanctuary, such as running dogs to the vet, helping with adoptions, assisting with the transports of dogs coming up from Georgia to escape kill shelters, photographing them and putting their information on PetFinder.com.
Mondays and Tuesdays are spent working part-time at Cold Nose Lodge, a doggy daycare in Alburtis. She said she has working relationships with many rescues and organizations in the nearby area, but most importantly, a network of local foster parents.
“We rely so heavily on foster homes,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to save nearly as many animals.”
Chuyko is a foster mom herself, in addition to her three dogs whom she calls her problem children (above). All three have socialization issues that make them unadoptable to the public. “If they weren’t with me, they’d likely be put down,” she said. It’s a heavy statement, but Chuyko doesn’t let the ugly side of the job get to her. “It is definitely hard when you have to euthanize, but it’s not as bad when you’re doing it for the right reasons and the right way.”
Shelters are a bit of a vicious circle in Chuyko’s eyes, one that won’t reach an end until everyone gets on board with spaying/neutering and the overpopulation of animals starts to dwindle.
“’No kill’ should mean that you’re euthanizing for medical purposes or aggressive issues, not because you’re running out of space,” she explained. “In my eyes, I can’t risk another life. If you take one shot with an aggressive dog, it may go after another animal or a person. I’d rather not see anyone get hurt and I’d rather not see that animal put in a cage for the rest of its life.”
Puppy mills also contribute to that vicious circle. How much is that doggy in the window? A whole lot cheaper than the poor pup at the shelter hoping for a home. The danger in pet stores is that you never truly know where those animals are coming from. Turning the concept on its head and putting shelter dogs in pet stores has been a recent experiment in other areas, but Chuyko doesn’t think it would always work.
“You’re always going to have someone who just has to have the purebred whatever, oh, how cute, but people don’t think to follow the trail all the way back,” she said. [Her pointers for bringing a new furry pal into the family can be found in our sidebar.]
Chuyko’s trail is soon leading her to Kutztown, where she’ll be able to do even more for animals. Her new landlords are foster parents and willing to help her do even more. “I’m getting excited for it now,” she said. “Now it’s just about spreading word of mouth and letting people know that if you need me, I’m there. I’ll drop anything to go for an animal.”
As for her future, Chuyko says she likes change. “I’d like to move to a bigger city down south. Maybe Georgia,” she said. “It’s a different culture down there; they’re animal people too, but not like us. There, they have kill shelters because they’re not as big on the spay/neuter thing.”
Right now, Chuyko’s eyes are focused on the present, on settling into her new role and home, and on becoming a champion for animals.
“They don’t have a say,” she said. “Basically, we are their voice. If we weren’t here, speaking up for them, they wouldn’t have one at all.”
If you witness an animal in need of assistance, veterinary care, or a new loving home, call or text Humane Officer Brittney Chuyko at 610-533-4141. For more info about the Sanctuary at Haafsville, to make a donation, or to become a volunteer, visit their website at www.thesanctuarypa.org or like them on Facebook.
Thinking of adding a new furry friend to your family? According to Chuyko, these are some outlines to follow:
Research your breeder (if you’re buying).
Ask to see your animal’s parents, and if they refuse, that’s a red flag that they may be involved in an inhumane situation, such as a puppy mill.
Ask for vet records and health certificates.
Always spay/neuter, whether you adopt or buy. Chuyko says there is no excuse anymore, as most local rescue organizations often offer low cost specials.