By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |

Hoarding is a phenomenon that most animal control agencies eventually encounter. It’s the situation where scores or even hundreds of neglected, sick and sometimes dying animals are found living in squalid conditions under the care of people who believe that they are providing good care to their animals. Most communities do a lousy job dealing with such cases. They pass limit laws that unnecessarily restrict responsible pet owners but which have little effect on hoarders. And they treat hoarders like criminals, even when it is obvious that they suffer from physical, mental or emotional difficulties and need help, not fines, prison terms, or public humiliation. In some areas, however, attitudes are changing, inspiring kindness toward people along with efforts to save the animals.

In Oregon we have a very tough cruelty law, one that allows hoarders to be treated as criminals, even when it is clear that they are suffering from severe physical and/or mental problems and need assistance. Worse, in Oregon it is commonplace to drag these poor souls through the media, wrenching every sensational ratings opportunity from the situation. The spectacle of little old ladies with sad, confused or sometimes terrified expressions being televised with bus loads or basements full of dogs and cats (often in better shape than their master) has always had a disturbing effect on me. It is a dehumanizing and abusive way to treat someone, especially when they are up in years and vulnerable. I have never understood why people so desperately in need of help receive so little sympathy from the public, or how people that profess to have compassion can so ruthlessly exploit devastated individuals such as these.

That is why I was so encouraged when I read about the handling of a hoarding case by Spokane County Animal Control. Responding to reports, animal control officers from Spokane County arrived at the home of a 67-year old woman. Once she had been a Poodle breeder, but she had reached a point in her life where she could no longer care for her dogs. She lived alone, suffered from recurring health problems, but could not bear to part with any of her dogs, or could she keep up with their growing number. She had 41 dogs. Because of their grooming requirements, Poodles are a high-maintenance breed under the best of circumstances. Some of these were in pretty bad shape, matted and living in filth.

But Nancy Hill, the director of animal control, noted that they also found dogs that had been groomed and cared for.

“There is no question in my mind that she loves the dogs,” Hill said “But physically she just could not keep up with the maintenance.”

Ultimately the woman will be charged with at least one misdemeanor related to operating a kennel without a license, but she was allowed to keep four of her dogs, the number officials deemed she could handle.

Following the seizure of her dogs, county staff members sprang into action, grooming the dogs, having them altered and generally getting them in shape for adoption. Word spread that the shelter could use some help and very quickly two professional groomers and five members of the Panorama Poodle Club, led by Rhonda and Tony Singleton, volunteered to help. Once they were groomed and altered, a throng of potential adopters lined up to take the dogs to their new homes.

This story has a happier ending than most hoarding stories that are reported. It’s impossible to know exactly why things turned out as well as they did in Spokane County, but one thing seems certain: that director Hill’s attitude and her genuine compassion for animals and people inspired the kindness and cooperation necessary to unite the community in solving problems and offering help to all the lives involved.

This article ran in the Spring 2003 issue of NAIA News

photo credit: My Gillette Mach 3 Razor via photopin (license)

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