It seems that we hear about so many cases where every pet was taken from an owner due to “terrible conditions”, “neglect” and similar descriptive terms. Instead of having a blanket response to alleged puppy mills or hoarding situations, I am in favor of evaluating each case individually. To my mind, this is the only approach that makes any sense especially given the lack of legal definitions of such terms as “puppy mill” and “animal hoarder”.
For example, if the authorities come upon a pet situation at Ms. Smith’s farm that looks troubling, I think some initial information gathering should take place in order to make some preliminary assessments.
- Is Ms. Smith willing to sit down and talk with us regarding the animals in her care?
- If so, what does she have to say?
- If not, do we have probable cause to obtain a search warrant from a judge to investigate further?
From there, a wide variety of scenarios may develop.
If authorities find that say, 10 of her 100 pets are suffering from neglect but the other 90 are ok, it’s possible that Ms. Smith can not afford to provide the vet care needed by the 10 in bad shape. Or perhaps those 10 have grooming needs Ms. Smith is physically unable to provide and doesn’t realize she can take them to Millie down the road for basic grooming every 6 weeks. It’s also possible that Ms. Smith is unable to differentiate between the 10 neglected pets and the other 90 – that she believes all of them are ok. In that case, perhaps education is needed or the question of mental illness may come into play.
I could sit here all day typing up various plausible scenarios but hopefully you get my drift. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits – not to explain away or excuse the neglect – but to understand how the situation can best be remedied in a meaningful and long lasting manner while causing the least amount of trauma overall.
If the conditions at the property rise to the level of criminal charges, hopefully those will be brought. If there is need to remove every living animal from an owner’s property immediately for their own safety, then charges should almost certainly be brought. If not, are the laws so weak and vague that even an emergency situation doesn’t qualify as prosecutable? In that case, the laws need to be addressed.
I am inclined to believe that at least some of the so-called hoarding and puppy mill cases we read about – where dozens or hundreds of animals are removed at once – are situations that could have been handled differently and with far less trauma to the dogs. Some owners may be able to keep a certain number of altered pets responsibly. Even those diagnosed as mentally ill may be perfectly capable of providing adequate care for a small number of altered pets, especially when there is a family member or friend willing to monitor the situation long term.
Pets can be therapeutic for some patients and allowing a few pets to remain in the home – as opposed to taking away every last one – can be beneficial in several ways. It makes things easier on the pets who get to stay in their home and may help the owner to understand that the authorities are truly trying to assist rather than vilify. This could aid in compliance both in the present situation as well as in future. And it may alleviate a newly petless person’s impulse to run out and get a bunch more pets.
It may not always be necessary to remove every animal immediately, depending on the case. Obviously in some cases, that is exactly what needs to happen. But in others, it’s possible pets can be sheltered in place until appropriate arrangements can be made. Or perhaps removing only some of the animals from the property will allow the owner to make significant and satisfactory improvements.
Anything that can be done to ease the burden placed on local rescues when these large seizures take place will benefit the animals and allow these small groups to use their limited resources judiciously. As things stand, sometimes “rescued” puppies contract diseases and die in the care of their rescuers and “rescued” dogs are sent to the gas chamber.
Many advocates fought so hard, and continue to fight, for the right of dogs seized in dogfighting busts to be evaluated as individuals. In many cases now, the idea of evaluating the dogs as individuals has replaced the old blanket response of kill-them-all. This has resulted in the saving of many lives, which is a primary goal of most animal advocates. Isn’t it time to re-think our current one-size-fits-all response to puppy mill/hoarding situations?