No-Kill Animal Abusers
This week a Friend on Facebook posted a link to an animal cruelty case involving a “so-called no-kill” “rescue” organization, the Humane Sanctuary of Kinsman, Ohio, that had (allegedly) badly neglected the animals under its care.
On Friday, February 12, 2010 the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County (AWLTC), the county sheriff’s department and other agencies executed a search warrant at this facility and impounded one hundred sixty-two dogs, 18 cats, two horses and multiple fowl and chickens. The woman (not) caring for the animals has been charged with nearly 200 counts of animal cruelty.
The photos are horrendous – pictures of emaciated live animals, and dead dogs partially consumed by their starving companions. Horrendous, but not atypical for a hoarding case.
I have long been troubled by the link between the so-called no-kill movement and the proliferation of hoarding cases in the animal protection world, especially hoarding cases connected to alleged “rescue” organizations. During the 20 years I worked at the Marin Humane Society, hoarder cases (we called them “collectors” then) were few and far between, and tended to be the “little old lady living with 150 cats in her home.”
Granted, there was no Internet then so we didn’t have as easy access to the information, but my husband Paul and I edited and published for 13 years a quarterly magazine called the C.H.A.I.N. Letter (Collective Humane Action and Information Network) and we collected and reported all the cases we could find. We found a few hoarder cases per quarter. Today I receive at least three or more per week. Did you get that? Per week. The experts tell us there are even more.
“Hoarding” is a long-recognized psychological condition when it comes to the extreme collecting of inanimate possessions. Only beginning in the 1990s has the term been applied to animal collectors, and animal collecting is still not universally recognized as a hoarder syndrome. An animal hoarder has been defined as “someone who accumulates a large number of animals; fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care; and fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death) or the environment (severely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions), or the negative impact of the collection on their own health and well-being.”
Dr. Gary Patronek of Tufts University conducted a survey (1999) of shelters that had dealt with hoarder cases. He estimated that there were between 700 and 2,000 new hoarder cases every year in the United States. Dr. Randall Lockwood at the ASPCA in New York suggested in 2009 that there were approximately five thousand new hoarder cases reported every year. That’s approximately fourteen new cases every day! In 69 percent of the cases Dr. Patronek surveyed, animal waste accumulated in living areas. Over 25 percent of the hoarders’ beds were soiled with feces or urine. Hoarders’ justifications for their behavior included an intense love of animals, the feeling that animals were surrogate children, the belief that no one else would or could take care of them, and the fear that the animals would be euthanized. According to Patronek, a significant number of hoarders had nonfunctional utilities (i.e., bathroom plumbing, cooking facilities, heat, refrigeration and electricity). Indeed, if you make your way through the photos of the AWLTC case you will see at least one of a barely functional toilet.
I don’t believe it’s just the power of the Internet raising awareness of the extent of the hoarding problem and making it seem like there are more of them now than there were 20 years ago. A significant number of the cases reported in my news searches now involve hoarders posing as legitimate rescuers. That wasn’t the case then. I lay the blame for this tragic phenomenon squarely on the shoulders of the so-called no-kill movement. Here’s why:
So-Called No-Kill Shelters
I have no beef with shelters who don’t want to euthanize – as long as they do it responsibly, by being selective about taking in animals, honest about the fact that every responsible shelter euthanizes sometimes, and doesn’t hold the full-service shelters in their communities out to be evil because they do the necessary heartbreaking work of euthanizing animals for whom there are no homes.
Shelters are under tremendous community pressure to call themselves no-kill. As a result, several things have happened.
• Shelters have lowered adoption standards in their efforts to get dogs (and cats and other animals) out the front door. Where once most good shelters did landlord checks, confirmed regular veterinary care for past animal companions and checked animal control records for past violations, now many do not.
• Shelters work more closely with rescue groups which, on its face, is a very good thing, but shelters that are panicked about being no-kill often don’t check the credentials of so-called rescuers, and may put their shelter animals directly into the hands of hoarders. A large number of Hurricane Katrina rescues, for example, ended up in the hands of a hoarder who was later charged with cruelty.
• Hoarders have learned how to make themselves look legitimate by incorporating as 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. There are now many of these.
• The no-kill movement has convinced many in our society that no-kill is possible, today (and it simply is not), and so many people giving up their animals look for any no-kill option, inadvertently feeding the hungry maw of the rescue hoarder.
• Many excellent shelter administrators have been forced from their positions rather than succumbing to no-kill pressure, and their replacement are often no-kill devotees, pushing once-legitimate well-run shelters into institutionalized hoarding. We see those stories routinely on Internet news as well.
The allure of the no-kill promise is understandable. Those of us who love animals would love to see that dream become a reality – and we are all working, in our own ways, toward that day. But let’s be real – that day is a long way off. Meanwhile, those who travel the country and write books and blogs promising a no-kill fix are like the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, who lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks with a promise of love, only today’s no-kill Sirens are luring animals to their deaths in the arms of the hoarders who claim to love them.
I remember my first collector case. Louise Ritchie was living in her Volkswagon van with 18 Siberian Huskies in upscale Marin County. We impounded the dogs and won the case. Ritchie’s defense, as is common in hoarder cases, was that she loved her dogs. The words of Prosecuting Attorney Linda Witong ring in my ears to this day.
“Louise Ritchie claims she loves her dogs. God help us if she had hated them!”
I do know that no-kill advocates love our animal companions and don’t want to see them suffer. I just wish they could recognize what they are doing to the animals they profess to love. The “quick fix” promised by no-kill advocates is no better than the quick fix promised by trainers who use shock collars, alpha rolls and other dominance-based coercive methods. In the end, they only harm the very animals they profess to love.
God help us if they hated them…