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July 23, 2009

Hurricane Katrina Hoarder Found in Vermont

Justice delayed but not denied

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Notorious animal hoarder Tammy Hanson kept dogs in deplorable conditions. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Bernard Unti

For the animals who survived Hurricane Katrina only to be sent to a hellhole masquerading as an animal sanctuary in Arkansas, it was a "second storm." For HSUS staffers and other responders who worked hard to secure the safety and well-being of more than 500 diseased and suffering animals at the site, and hold the perpetrators accountable, it was a matter of justice.

Justice delayed until July 2009, as it turned out, but not denied.

Tammy Hanson, a hoarder who fled Arkansas after being convicted on 20 misdemeanor counts of cruelty in January 2006, has been apprehended in Vermont. Hanson is being held without bond in that state, to which she and her husband William apparently absconded after failing to show up for a sentencing hearing in February 2006.

Mange, Injuries, Tumors, Maggots

In late October 2005, the Baxter County, Arkansas, Sheriff's Department raided Every Dog Needs a Home (EDNAH), the Gamaliel property Hanson owned with her husband. There, investigators found animals dead, injured and crowded together under filthy and inhumane conditions. Animals at EDNAH suffered from mange infestation, torn tendons, stones, tumors, urine scald, maggots and ingrown toenails, among other conditions.

A veterinarian who entered the property when the original warrant was served stated that it was the worst case of cruelty he had witnessed in 35 years of practice.

Shelter from The Second Storm

Hanson's crimes claimed national attention because 112 of the 500 dogs found on her property were displaced refugees of Hurricane Katrina. The HSUS stepped in at the request of the Sheriff's department to provide emergency sheltering and treatment for hundreds of animals, and to facilitate their later adoption.

Current state director Desiree Bender, and then Southwest Regional Office program coordinator Tammy Hawley, along with HSUS consultant Kim Staton, worked with dozens of responders recruited by The HSUS and United Animal Nations to supervise the animals' care. The HSUS, already stretched by the ongoing burdens of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, spent over $100,000 to shelter, care for and relocate animals from the site.

Flight Risk and Extradition

At an extradition hearing for Hanson in the District Court of Caledonia County, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery presented the facts concerning the outstanding Arkansas misdemeanor warrant for Hanson, and a separate warrant for three felony counts of animal theft in Lawrence County, Missouri, which Hanson also sought to evade through flight.

Judge Howard Van Benthuysen concurred with Montgomery and State's Attorney Ben Luna that Hanson was a flight risk. Once the necessary governor's requisition warrants from Arkansas and Missouri are delivered to Vermont, her transfer to one or both of those states can be authorized.

William Hanson, who is wanted only on the charges in Arkansas, has not been arrested.

New Arkansas Law Brings Justice

In February 2009, Arkansas became the 46th state to make cruelty to animals a felony offense, addressing a deficit in its statutory protection for animals that the Hanson case, among others, had underscored. The HSUS and Sheriff Montgomery supported S.B. 77, now Act 33, which will become law July 31, 2009. The new law makes a first-time felony penalty for the torture of dogs, cats and horses, and outlaw animal fighting, including cockfighting. It also carries a five-year sentence enhancement for abusing an animal in the presence of a child.

Sheriff Montgomery played an active role in passage of the law, conveying to legislators the importance of felony level penalties for cases like Hanson's where extradition might become necessary. "He has been an amazing leader within the law enforcement community on animal cruelty issues," said Desiree Bender. 

Under the statute in place at the time of the Hansons' conviction, the maximum penalty permissible is one year in jail and fines of $1,000 each. In the best of projections, the new law will discourage animal cruelty of any kind in the state of Arkansas. In the worst, it ensures that a stronger measure of justice will attend those cases where the bond between humans and animals is so badly betrayed.

Bernard Unti, Ph.D., is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO of The HSUS. He is the author of Protecting All Animals, a history of The HSUS, and is currently writing a book on the 19th century animal protection movement.

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