Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You can help stop the ugly effects of animal hoarding


For years, conditions were vile at a 7-acre property north of Eatonville.

The home and garage were crammed with animals. The stench was awful.

When Pierce County Animal Control officers responded to neighbors’ complaints in May 2009, they found more than 100 animals, mostly dogs, living in filth.

The county had two choices.

• It could seize the animals and overwhelm their stretched resources with dogs needing cleaning, veterinary care, housing, feeding, evaluation and, if possible, adoption. It could build a criminal case against the women who lived in the double-wide manufactured home. All that could cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

• It could give the women a chance to find homes for the animals and solve the problem on their own.

The county chose Door No. 2. The women promised to cooperate, and the officers said they would monitor their progress.

It made economic sense.

Trouble is, it was a classic situation of animal hoarding, and hoarders don’t get better on their own.

They need counseling and long-term monitoring.

When they hoard animals, they can slip into neglect and abuse, in addition to health code and building code violations.

That’s what happened north of Eatonville. The women locked the gate. They stopped dealing with officers. They hid the animals they’d collected – 51 dogs inside the house and more than a dozen miniature horses in a garage.

We can all be grateful to the animal control officer who stayed on the case, managed to get on the property legally, though briefly, and saw probable cause for a search warrant.

We can all be relieved that Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson is re-evaluating how the county responds to such cases.

Last week, the county worked closely with the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County and asked for help from Tacoma and Kitsap county animal control officers. It was a good response for the animals, but it left other issues hanging.

Joe Hunt, Tacoma’s animal control and compliance officer, was there Thursday. He noted the different way the city handles hoarders.

If this incident had happened in Tacoma, he said: “I would get a team ready, including a veterinarian. I would call code enforcement, the health department and human services, because something is wrong with the people. I would get the warrant prepared and set it up with the police department, have the vet examine the animals.”

In Tacoma, he said, “code enforcement would red tag the place and board it up.”

In the unincorporated area near Eatonville, he said, the women were offered – and declined – human services help. Their home, which had animal feces 2 feet deep in some spots last week, was left open and accessible..." More

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