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July 15, 2010

Rescued from Squalor: Part 2

A house full of dogs saved by The HSUS and partnering organizations provides a glimpse into the delusional world of animal hoarders

All Animals magazine, July/August 2010

  • View a PDF of this story here. The HSUS

  • Some dogs in the Mississippi home had been breeding, exacerbating an already overcrowded situation with the addition of new puppies. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • Mange had caused many dogs to lose their fur and scratch themselves raw in their attempts to stop the itching. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • HSUS field responder Rowdy Shaw and a staff member from the Mississippi Animal Rescue League carry armloads of puppies away from the filthy home where they were found. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • This dog was rescued from the muck in Mississippi and traveled north to receive medical treatment and rehabilitation from the Washington Animal Rescue League in the nation's capital. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • The same dog after arriving at the Washington Animal Rescue League. Large-scale rescues would not be possible without assistance from groups that take in the animals, treat them, and place them with new families. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Good Intentions Gone Wrong?

Sheriff James Moore has been monitoring the situation here for several years. But until this March morning when he served the warrant, even he hadn’t been inside the house.

A new sheriff for Kemper County, Moore met the homeowner for the first time while campaigning in 2008. “She expressed a lot of concern about what kind of sheriff I would be in terms of protecting the dogs,” he says. For several years, she has been running a rescue group out of this property. Her group even had nonprofit tax status and a profile on Petfinder.com, a major animal adoption site.

But after Moore began receiving complaints about the conditions of the property and the animals, he made it a point to speak with the homeowner more frequently and realized how misleading their first interaction had been. “The best thing that could have happened to those dogs was being taken away from her,” he says.

The woman would also pay visits to the sheriff—ironically, to complain about her neighbors—that served as a pungent, visceral clue to Moore and his officers that something was seriously wrong. “Her smell would be in the office for days, and anything she brought or mailed to our office smelled like the house, too,” he says.

A mostly hairless dog hides in the bathtub, another one cowers behind the toilet near an overturned canister of Comet, and several puppies curl up beneath the sink. Above them on the countertop, folded into a stack of dirty laundry, is a tiny, filthy, dead puppy.

Moore is the first person into the house this morning, securing the site and ensuring it’s reasonably safe for animal handlers to enter. But even years of seeing—and smelling—what it was like on the outside did not adequately prepare him. “When I opened the door and saw what I saw, I could not believe it,” he says.

The outside of the house is bad enough, with the poop and the trash and the mud, but at least the yard gets the benefit of sunlight and occasional rain to wash away some of the nastiness.

Indoors, though, the droppings have stayed where they fell—the primary reason for the rescuers’ respirators. The devices don’t protect their eyes, though, which water upon exposure to the gases emanating from years of built-up feces. Their feet squish into what should be solid flooring but is instead covered in several inches of trash: nutritional supplements and soda cans and bags of dog food and potato chips and white bread—all of it mixed with poop.

Everything is covered in a layer of brownish grease, and there are dogs everywhere: little dogs in crates, a mama dog nursing puppies, other puppies blinking listlessly under reddish warming lights, hairless adult dogs roaming freely around the house, stopping now and then to scratch themselves furiously or lick open wounds. At least eight dogs of varying breeds are in the master bedroom, scrabbling underneath the bed and peeking out at the rescue teams. A mostly hairless dog hides in the bathtub, another one cowers behind the toilet near an overturned canister of Comet, and several puppies curl up beneath the sink. Above them on the countertop, folded into a stack of dirty laundry, is a tiny, filthy, dead puppy.

» continue to page 3 of this article

» view a pdf of the full article

» read more from the current issue of All Animals

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