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Response to Concerns About Disposition of Dogs in Alabama Hoarding Case

The staff of The Humane Society of the United States must move quickly in situations where animals are suffering from serious neglect, abuse, abandonment, or extremely poor conditions that endanger their well-being. In 2010, The HSUS worked with law enforcement to rescue more than 12,000 animals from animal fighting operations and situations of desperate cruelty.

A recent hoarding case in Alabama presented us and our Emergency Shelter Placement Partner program with a major challenge. We were contacted and asked to help with a hoarding situation — what we discovered were 44 chow/retriever mix dogs who had developed into a wild pack in a hoarder's backyard. We were horrified to find dogs who had not been provided socialization or veterinary care, and who had not been spayed or neutered. The dogs, who appeared to be inbred, were being kept alive with a minimum of food and water, but were turning on each other. Some dogs had already been seriously injured and some had even been killed. We had to act fast to prevent any further tragedy, so we worked in partnership with other adoption agencies and partners and were able to remove the dogs and then disperse them to a variety of shelters and rescue groups so that those able to be rehabilitated and adopted out could be. 

This particular population of dogs is the type that is very difficult to place — very few people want to adopt such challenging pets, or are capable of dealing with their severe medical and behavioral issues. We knew we had to find locations for these animals, even if on a temporary basis, and we were appreciative of the help we received. With no animal shelter in the county where the dogs were seized, this was an unusually difficult process. 

Some of the dogs went to a shelter in Nashville, some went to a Nashville rescue organization, some went to a rescue group in Georgia, and 10 went to North Carolina. The North Carolina dogs were initially placed in a shelter in Lincoln County. The Lincoln County shelter is large, clean, has a large volunteer base, and has one of the lower euthanasia rates in the state. They placed slightly more than 1,000 animals last year through their rescue contacts. This provided the dogs another chance at finding homes if not adopted to the general public. The dogs would be walked every day by volunteers, getting much-needed human interaction and socialization. Allegations of problems with this shelter arose and we swiftly removed any remaining dogs to another location.

It has come to our attention that four of the dogs sent to the Lincoln County shelter were deemed unadoptable and may have been euthanized via the gas chamber method of euthanasia. This shelter did use the gas chamber as a euthanasia method, a method still used in underfunded areas of the country, but one extremely disfavored by our organization. HSUS has a long history of working to help shelters move away from gas chamber euthanasia. We have also worked to change policies at the state level in legislatures and we hope the day will come soon when the gas chamber is completely abandoned, by all shelters. We also work to end the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals. It is deeply disturbing to us that these dogs may have been euthanized by this method, and we are disappointed and saddened that we were not notified in advance so that we could look for other options for the dogs.

Under most circumstances, when rescued animals come to a shelter, the entire shelter population benefits. The resulting publicity for that shelter increases support from the local community, highlights the need for people to adopt pets, and almost immediately sends more people walking through the shelter doors. All the dogs and cats at the shelter are now more likely to be adopted as a result of the spotlight these rescued dogs brought with them.

We have also learned that the Lincoln County shelter has stopped using the gas chamber as a method of euthanasia. HSUS applauds that decision, and we have offered to assist with the cost of removing the gas chamber from the shelter. We are also working on legislation to ban the use of gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in the state of Alabama and hope to enable more shelters to make that switch in the coming year. North Carolina continues to move forward with individual counties discontinuing the use of gas chambers. 

We are following up on the rest of the dogs and will continue to do so as they are cared for and, we hope, adopted out. Our Emergency Shelter Placement Partner program will move on to the next rescue — as sadly, there is always another on the horizon. To find out more about the program and fill out an application, visit www.animalsheltering.org/espp.  

Being involved in animal rescue and placement can be heart-wrenching work — it is almost always stressful, fast-paced, and can invite criticism if the outcomes are not all positive. It would be easier not to be involved — to stick to areas that we can better control the outcomes and where we have fewer variables and more oversight. If we did that, however, then we wouldn't be able to help thousands of animals who are suffering, living in squalor, and who are at great risk, every day. We accept the criticism that comes with this work — no one is perfect, but we're certainly trying with everything we have to make a positive difference in the lives of these animals.