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Rescued from Squalor: Part 4

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

Sweet Surrender

The animals, apparently, feel differently. Almost as soon as the HSUS emergency response rig opens its doors, revealing rows of scrubbed-down stainless steel caging and heaving an antiseptic breath over the fetid landscape, one of the loose dogs on the property runs onto it, finds a towel of her liking, and curls up on it, ready to leave.

She has to wait a while. By the end of the seizure, the property’s estimated 70 animals will turn out to total 181. Most of the dogs aren’t aggressive, but they’re unsocialized and nervous about being handled. Rounding up the ones in the pens—some of whom, despite their bad condition, can still run fast—takes kindness, skill, and time. Each animal has to be documented for court; this time-consuming process involves photographing the area where the animal was found, and then the animal himself from multiple angles in order to capture his physical condition.

By mid-afternoon, the steady rain has turned the grounds into a muddy poop soup, and the teams of responders are soaked and filthy. They have removed scores of dogs, and many more are still waiting.

To get to the dogs in the main pen in the front yard, the rescuers have to use wire cutters, a scene made more bizarre by the tiny audience watching them from inside the still-shuttered house: Dozens of rats are peering out the window and seem to be wondering if there might be a space for them on the rescue rig, too.

If local laws don’t require the owner or the state to cover costs, shelters may spend tens of thousands of dollars to house and feed the victims—a massive drain on already limited resources.

The animals’ owner is no longer on the property. After refusing to calm down, she has been arrested for disorderly conduct and taken away. It’s a minor infraction, and she’ll be out of jail tomorrow. But later in the day, Parascandola goes to see her. He’s hoping to get the thing that rescuers pray for in these cases: legal custody.

A major hoarding case takes tremendous resources—people to rescue the animals, veterinarians to evaluate and treat them, a place to hold them safely and humanely while the case progresses. Sheriff Moore and Debra Boswell, executive director of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, have worked for nearly nine months to plan this seizure, agreeing in the end that they’d need outside help.

It’s difficult for any local agency to handle such a case on its own, says Parascandola. Many shelters are already overwhelmed, and the abrupt arrival of scores of animals can force them to euthanize healthy, adoptable pets in order to make space for sickly, skittish hoarding victims—a terrible choice, and one that sometimes prevents shelters from intervening in hoarding situations.

In many hoarding cases, shelters must hold animals for long periods as the owner fights the charges in court. If local laws don’t require the owner or the state to cover costs, shelters may spend tens of thousands of dollars to house and feed the victims—a massive drain on already limited resources. But if owners agree to surrender the animals, they can be treated, evaluated for adoption, and placed into new homes quickly.

In the visiting area of the jail, Parascandola made his case. “She asked first if she surrendered the animals, would that prevent her from being prosecuted? And I said ‘No, absolutely not.’ And then she said, ‘Well, then why should I surrender them?’ And I said, ‘For the dogs. They need to get out and into a better situation.’ ”

Whether it was due to Parascandola’s plea—or simply because she couldn’t afford to pay the bond required to cover the costs of holding the animals—the woman did everyone a favor: She surrendered all but three; later, a court ruled that even they should not be returned to her. That means that the 181 animals taken from the property can be distributed among shelters that have offered to help, and placed into new homes. It means that when scores of nervous, hairless, shivering dogs are driven away from the property in the evening, they have seen the last of this place—a place where they came to be rescued, only to be neglected, starved, and allowed to get sick. It means the end of false hope, and the beginning of the real thing.

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