Burned MA Shelter Has License Suspended, Finally

The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture had been documenting inhumane and dangerous conditions at the Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals facility for years before it caught on fire last month, killing 37 animals.  Sweetpea is a registered 501c3 and registered as a rescue with the state.

In 2013, state inspectors expressed concerns that Sweetpea was overcrowded, the cages were too small for any dogs over 25 pounds, and the animals were being warehoused.  Some dogs had been at the facility for 10 months at the time of the inspection.  Sweetpea was importing dogs from out of state and over half the dogs were large in size, some from a greyhound rescue.  Some of the animals were boarders.   The manager told the inspectors that she constantly monitored Craigslist for animals who had been adopted from Sweetpea whom the adopters were attempting to rehome instead of returning them to the facility.  A husky at the facility was one such dog.

The dogs had no barriers between them other than chain link resulting in bitten ears, tails and paws.  Dogs were exhibiting “long term institutionalized behaviors” such as circling and biting the cage wire.  A veterinarian accompanying the inspectors advised the manager that Sweetpea should house a maximum of 20 dogs at any given time but the manager said she could house 50 and indicated dogs could be placed in stacked cat cages if necessary.

Cats were being housed in the same room with dogs, also in chain link cages.  Many were feral cats whom the manager had trapped and neutered but never returned, explaining that she planned to tame them.  There was no isolation for sick animals and no quarantine for unvetted animals.

Sweetpea did not hold a kennel license at that time and the manager wanted to start accepting animal control contracts from municipalities.  A state inspector advised that no municipal agreements could be made without the kennel license.  Sweetpea went ahead anyway and began housing impounded animals from municipalities, later obtaining the kennel license.

In 2014, inspectors noted that the feral cats had reportedly been at the facility for more than 2 years.  Multiple cats were crammed into each cage, some cages had 4 cats who were unable to move.  The dog kennels were still too small for the many large dogs who had to stand in the kennels with 2 feet on the floor and the other 2 on the bed, which took up most of the floor space.  The dogs banged into the walls if they tried to turn around.  Outdoor runs were available but not in use. The cats were still stuck in the middle of the room with the dogs.  All the animals were severely stressed and the “noise level was extreme”.  Questions arose about Sweetpea running a for-profit boarding and grooming business without a license.

Inspectors were specifically concerned with the fire hazard represented by the massive clutter inside Sweetpea, noting that the old building had never been updated, did not have sprinklers and the condition of the electrical wiring was unknown.

On November 19, 2015, the state inspector noted that conditions were unchanged:  dogs were fence fighting in the cramped kennels, cats were caged in the middle of the dog room and the animals were suffering from severe stress.  Due to Sweetpea’s continued failure to correct the inhumane conditions, the inspector officially recommended that the facility stop accepting animals from the municipalities until improvements were made.

Three days later, the Sweetpea facility burned down and most of the animals were killed.  The cause of the fire has not been determined.  Donations have poured in to multiple fundraising sites.  A posting on Craigslist questioning whether Sweetpea should be rebuilt under the same leadership was quickly flagged for removal:

craigslist ad sweetpea
Screencap of a portion of a Craiglist posting that was up only briefly.

On December 7, Sweetpea’s kennel license was suspended by the Board of Selectmen.  The group apparently has a lawyer fighting the suspension.

Yet again, I am utterly puzzled as to how a shelter in the Magical North, where we in the Stupid South continually ship our homeless pets, could be less than magical.  It’s one of life’s mysteries I guess, like fires.


15 thoughts on “Burned MA Shelter Has License Suspended, Finally

  1. Nightmare hoarding situation posing as shelter. Shit.

    And then fire. Those poor animals, trapped, already extremely stressed…

    I wonder if anyone knows what they’re donating towards?

    1. Reading about animals forced to suffer for years while no one does a goddamn thing, who ultimately end up being burned alive has that sort of effect on me. Especially when I think about the situation starting all over again for new animals, courtesy of unsuspecting donors.

  2. The post is VERY VALID. I think it’s obvious that the shelter was highly suspicious to all — and way too coincidental that the shelter burned. That is outrageous. Those poor animals — totally defenseless. And now they want to “protect” other animals in the same manner with a “new” shelter. Bull.

  3. With all those violations, I do not understand how that shelter was not forced to shut down. If only it had been shut down the awful death of those innocent animals could have been prevented. Heartbreaking.

  4. I follow Juno, https:facebook.com/JunosPlace, on FB. Their page is major championing Sweetpea. I didn’t donate and now won’t, but they gave NO indication of this type of situation, thus many are being led astray. Been through this here once already, trying to get a “saint” removed or shutdown her rescue (hers, not the board of directors…). Finally succeeded but with pets suffering for years there, too.

    1. They gave no indication because this wasn’t the situation.
      Ever go to Sweetpea?
      If you had you would have been given grand tour in a moments notice, nothing to hide. They would have let you right in.
      What does no kill mean? No Kill . I guess unlike the shelters that you all must support that take in an animal and kill it in a few days or few minutes.
      No other local shelters ever stepped up to help Sweetpea when they were asked, now they are falling all over each other to get a sweetpea surviver. But they were all first in line to dump animals on Sweetpea!
      I agree with Olga, talk about kicking someone when they are down.
      You should all be ashamed of yourselves, you never have been there, you have no clue whats going!


  5. If you just go by older reports, things do indeed look bad. However, you should know ALL the facts before damning a place. They were not in a possession legally for the buildings they were in until very recently, like just days before the fire. There were plans drawn up, that had been designed with input form the town and state for a complete updating, which was to happen as soon as they got property.Was it at times a little crowed? Perhaps. That can happen when you are a NO KILL shelter. They had limited funds, had to work around a property owner who refused to make any changes. They did what they could to save animals lives. Keep in mind at no time did the state or town shut them down. Yes, their license is currently suspended. Gee, seeing as there is no building left to house animals…….. They are working towards building an updated, fully functioning, to code facility. However that takes money. Money that is being raised through donations, fundraisers etc.Do I feel and new board of directors may be needed? Very possible,may even be part of their being able to re-open. I do not know the laws governing a reopening after a loss .
    Is the North magical? No. Is the south stupid? No. But people can be both.
    Roberta, you are correct, Juno is standing by Sweetpea. That should tell you something. Deb would NOT support anyone or any group who did not want the best for animals.
    The Crigslist post, was pulled because it was found to be written by someone with an agenda. Keep in mind, and you can check this on your own. State, town reports are public record after all.Pick your favorite restaurant, grocery store, look up all their inspection reports, see what/how many deficiencies they had. If you just go by those reports, you may never eat again. Reports don’t tell the whole story. Ask people who are close to a situation, so you can be better informed, If you are trying to imply that the fire was anything but accidental, then you are wrong on levels I can not fathom. The shelter may not have been to most Wow, and wonderful, new and shinny. But the people cared for those animals, giving them all the love they could. The only love some of those poor souls ever knew. In the end they only thing that should matter are the animals.

    1. You reference “older reports”, as if we are talking about a couple of failed inspections from 15 years ago and things have totally turned around since. You are being misleading, at best. The most recent inspection, which resulted in the suspension of the license, was performed last month, three days prior to the fire. It indicates that inhumane conditions, which have persisted for years, remained unchanged and animals were still suffering. “At time a little crowded” hardly sums up the extent of the cruelty documented in these state inspections.

  6. Sad that this idiot has never stepped foot in the shelter and supports high kill shelters and all of you sheep are following her. I can’t wait for you all to see the truth and look like fools

      1. I’m sorry, but there is NO EXCUSE for housing cats that closely to dogs. And housing feral cats like that? The only word for it is “torture”.

        I hope if they do rebuild, they do so with completely new leadership.

  7. None of the people who have posted support high-kill shelters; they support the no-kill equation and shelter reform. You clearly haven’t read any previous posts.

Leave a Reply