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26 January 2008

Sometimes Love Isn't Enough - Animal Hoarding Horror in Southern California

Love is a strange thing and so is the human mind. Sometimes a person with a tender heart never learns to say no and against all reason and financial considerations creates just the kind of disaster that person hoped to prevent. Yes, sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind because kindness by itself can kill.

Someone, perhaps in a kindhearted effort to save unwanted pets, collected about 400 animals. Who that someone is, news reports haven't revealed.

Of that number, there were about 200 dogs, 30 cats, 40 chickens and turkeys, 100 goats and sheep, a llama, an emu and a hog. They were left there with no water except for pools of mud. According to reports, dead animals were found in wheelbarrows, cages and in the mud.

Local non-profits, The Gentle Barn and A Wish for Animals, came forward and are leading this rescue mission, beginning on 14 January 2008. Before I heard anything on the news, the message was out on the Internet, in Yahoo! groups and on Craigslist.

The number of animals is almost too much for either of those non-kill animals shelters to handle--alone or together. So there is a call for help--people to foster, people to give money and goods. There is a request for people to save these animals who have suffered the fate of many animals--not intentional cruelty, but the cruelty of neglect.

These animals are victims of a person who is what is now called an animal hoarder. For years there have been jokes about the cat lady and now, there's even a doll. I have known some cat ladies and dog ladies. There even was a man with too many tigers.

Yet to animal welfare and protection groups, these people, known as collectors, have long been a concern. Sometimes, someone well-known and respected from their own ranks falls into the trap of taking on too many animals, not being able to say no and fully believing that they are the only ones who can give these animals the proper care. In small towns or even large urban centers with an understaffed and underfunded animal shelter, confiscating the animals and keeping them until the court case is over--perhaps for as long as a year--can be a financial disaster. It also means less room for the normal annual influx of animals.

At Tufts University, there is a web page that addresses this phenomena, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. If you've never walked into a property of a hoarder, you might be shocked. I went to a former breed rescue, walking in after most of the dogs had been confiscated and what I noticed first was the smell. Not only did the kennels smell, but the office with the urine-soaked carpet, shiny with not quite cleaned off feces. There were open pits that smelled of urine in the kennels. One held a dead rat. Since then, HARC has photos similar to these on its website.

I have known of three other local non-profit animal rescue operations that had gone bad. HARC calls these the "rescue or shelter" type of hoarder.

I'm not counting the one with the four hundred, located in Lancaster nor the one with St. Bernards or the one with the tigers. It was easy to shrug off the infamous cat ladies, but this is a mental illness, compassion gone wrong. The financial cost to the community is enormous and the suffering of animals is impossible to measure.

Four hundred animals require a lot of love and require a lot of hard cash. If you have something to spare, help insure that the second time around, these animals will really be saved.

ADDENDUM: After I posted this on the blog magazine, Blogcritics.org, someone wrote in with the name of the alleged owner of the dogs, Ivan George Callais.

There are some dogs leftover from 2007 breed rescue cases in Houston and New York that have been divided between collie rescue non-profit organizations.

In Marshall, TX, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rescued 200 animals, including dogs guinea pigs, bearded dragons and 26 hissing cockroaches.

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