600 Animals Seized from Unlicensed NC Shelter

The state of NC has known for years that a private shelter in Hoke Co was being operated so far below minimum acceptable standards that animals were suffering.  Animals at the Haven were not receiving necessary veterinary care, food, water, exercise, or socialization – and there were way too many for the small number of staff to take proper care of.  During the state’s October 2009 inspection, there were more than 1300 animals at the facility:

Portion of a 2009 inspection of the Haven by the state of NC
Portion of a 2009 inspection of the Haven by the state of NC

State inspectors took dozens of photos documenting neglect during their October 2013 visit to the Haven.  Animals were stacked in dirty cages everywhere including the “isolation” area, inside the dog runs, in the barn and in a lean-to:

Some animals were sick, others were left without food and/or water:

So it would have come as a surprise to no one at the state level when the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the Haven yesterday pursuant to public complaints. The ASPCA was brought in. More than 600 animals have been seized:

“You’ve got animals out here with open wounds…obvious skin conditions…animals that appear to be malnourished,” [Capt. John] Kivett said.

According to the ASPCA, the animals were kept in dirty kennels, cages, outdoor pens and paddocks, many without protection from the elements.

The owners have been charged with animal cruelty and possession of a controlled substance used for animals. Additional charges are likely as the investigation continues.

Thank you to the complainers for not giving up on the animals and to the local authorities for taking action. I dread to think how many more years the state would have kept documenting the suffering of animals at this place without doing anything to help.

(Thanks Lisa for the links.)

13 thoughts on “600 Animals Seized from Unlicensed NC Shelter

  1. I don’t represent The Haven & have no direct knowledge but let me make a few general observations. This situation is only one example of a crisis in the rescue movement, which has grown enormously in scope & effectiveness but is also suffering severe growing pains.
    The easy response is to demonize these individuals & accuse them of wanton cruelty, but that oversimplifies things. The basic problem is the failure of society to recognize animal worth and act accordingly by allocating resources of time and money to secure their needs. For better or worse, a few individuals take it upon themselves to try to solve this on their own — maybe they’re neurotic, maybe they’re maladjusted, maybe they have a messiah complex, who knows? But I think it does a disservice to the issue to dismiss them as intentionally cruel. For what it’s worth, we know that many rescuers of varying degrees of skill got their start in reacting to bad situations at their local public animal control facilities. Does the thrill of saving an animal from these places become addictive?
    Major social movements go through a lot of fumbling as they try to organize & maybe even self-regulate. Is there a place for organizing rescues or is this an activity that likes to stay individual and private? Is there a way to help rescuers who have gotten in over their heads? The documented cases of suicide among rescuers make this an urgent question.
    We need to start thinking creatively about rescue and its problems.

    1. Is it a crisis in the rescue movement, or is it just another manifestation of mental illness?

      Because in hoarding cases, intention is rarely there, but the cruelty exists. Nearly everyone agrees that it is a manifestation of mental illness and that ongoing intervention is the only way to stop it.

      Here we have a “rescue” in way over their heads for more than a DECADE. The state knew it and tut tutted it, but did sod all to stop it. My question is why didn’t they stop it? These people weren’t even licensed, yet continued to do what they do year in and year out. Why?

      I don’t think that the rescue movement is the problem so much as the institutional acceptance of shelters being shitholes. The county run shelters that are falling apart, have no heat or a/c, leave animals out in pens without food/water/shelter are accepted by the state with a shrug and “they’re doing a tough job with no resources” and a dismissive wave as they pull out the driveway. I think that their level of expectations are appallingly low as a result and they see something like this and it’s just more of the same.

      The REAL crisis is shelter reform. If you have a tidy, well-run shelter where every animal is actually CARED FOR and gets socialization, veterinary care, food, water, shelter, and even a nice bed to sleep on, and then you walk into a “rescue” like this, you’re going to be like, “Whoa, this is SHIT. We are shutting this place DOWN.” Because shelters are the low man on the totem pole – rescues are supposed to be a step up, not down.

      So what’s the real problem? Low expectations and roadblocks to change (often in the low level powers that be – county commissioners and such). Fix your shelters and your rescues won’t be so overburdened – AND the level of expectation in animal care will rise nationwide.

      Mental illness will always be there. Crappy shelters don’t have to be.

      1. Perception. It is surreptitiously accepted that a ‘rescuer’ can get in over their head, but that’s to be excused and even accepted and pitied, but there’s bloody hell to pay should a breeder become catastrophically ill and get behind on sanitation. And if the rescue asks for help, it’s all good. If a breeder asks for help, they’re just short of publicly flogged. Even an average pet owner has to be afraid of criminal charges if their animal’s grooming or health care gets behind due to the circumstances of life, but a ‘rescuer’? Oh my!! They’re such HEROES! And we are MUCH better people if we brag up how we own a ‘rescued’ pet.

        Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in sheltering and rescue for thirty years, and am a retired professional groomer and veterinary technician. I have seen ALL manner of things from good people who are trying, but lack funds or physical ability that causes sanitation, grooming, or health care to lag behind on their pets, to idiots that truly don’t care about their animals or their well being, throwing them away for idiotic reasons, like, and this is a REAL case for me, “My pet doesn’t match the new furniture, so its hair shows up too much”. But the recent deification of individuals and organizations doing rescue and sheltering, and the craze of believing that having a second hand pet makes you some kind of better than any other mere pet owner is ridiculous!

        Once we return rescue operators to normal human parameters, perhaps we can stop cases like this before they get this bad. And perhaps we can address the retail rescues, where pets are pipelined all over the country for money, and with no real concern for ending pets being put down in locations where homes and the number of animals available are at odds, or even checking out the new owners, as long as they show up with cash. Or the seizure, outright theft, and retention of OWNED dogs by ‘rescue’, who then resell them illegally, and unethically. Rescue is badly broken, and it’s time to get to fixing it!

    2. The Spears lawyered up back in 2009 which is one of the reasons the NC Dept. of Ag stood down–they didn’t want to spend the money to push the issue. I have no sympathy for the Spears, but that doesn’t excuse the Dept of Ag’s inaction. I know that by 2013 the Dept. of Ag was getting tons of complaints (I know some of the people who complained) which I think is the only reason they started going back out there after three years of letting The Haven operate with no oversight at all. But the whole thing is a symptom of a bigger problem, and that is that the NC animal “shelter” system has been horribly broken for years, and people support places like The Haven because it seems like the only alternative to the horrible county pet killing facilities (such as the awful one in Hoke County, where The Haven is located).

      Also: update: At least 15 dead animals have been found on the premises http://abc11.com/1177435/

      1. I read through the state inspections and documents while writing this post. Although I do not presently recall which date it was, I remember one of the inspections was in response to a complaint from the public alleging dead dogs in the cages with live dogs. The inspector found numerous other problems but noted there were no dead dogs found during the inspection. I can’t imagine it would have made any difference if there had been dead dogs seen. Just another box to mark on the report.

      2. NOTE: There is a slideshow at the link Lisa provided and although there are no images of dead animals, it’s very tough to look at. I just thought I should post a warning to anyone who might be somewhere (such as a workplace) where crying is not an appropriate behavior.

    3. This may well have been, as Ms. Burt pointed out, a situation of Good Intentions going terribly wrong – started out trying to ‘help’ (aka Rescue ) animals from a local government run public tax funded ‘Dog Pound’ –and in those days they were ‘pounds’ and not ‘shelters’ as many are today– but the animals they pulled were not going to be any more ‘placeable’ by being in a new facility as they were ‘placeable’ in the Hoke County Animal Holding Facility – for lack of a better word — not to call it a ‘Dog Pound’, but not to call it a ‘Shelter’ either. And the acquisition got out of hand when the public chose to take their unwanted or stray animals to ‘The Haven’ as opposed to the ‘Pound’… still not wanted, but ‘NO’, We’re Full’ was not part of their dialog with the surrendering party. Any facility or individual operating beyond their capacity for care must do the math and adjust their business protocols. In some cases, even ONE animal for a certain individual may be ‘beyond their capacity for care’, it’s not always a numbers thing.

  2. Marianna Burt’s comment somewhat sounds like a legal defense. I 100% agree that owners need to be held accountable for their actions (meaning a pet should be for life except in extremely circumstances). I also agree that society needs to be held accountable as well (meaning our laws need to drastically change for companion animals in NC). However I do not agree with any rescue or no kill “shelter” getting in over their heads with such a large amount of animals. It’s insane and not doing what is best for those in need. This should have never been allowed to go on as long as it did. I’m extremely shocked the county did not put an end to this hoarding situation long before now.

  3. I agree with both responses, especially the statement “Fix your shelters and your rescues won’t be so overburdened …” I don’t mean at all to defend neglect & mismanagement, but my observation has been that sometimes rescuers become so frantic to get animals out of the public shelters that they cut corners & that’s how the problem starts.

  4. The dreadful conditions aside, the way the shelter system is set up is very confusing to me. It appears that all shelters are subject to inspection; inspection is random; bad conditions don’t have to be corrected; if there are any standards, they are not enforceable; while all can be inspected, licensing is voluntary; and those that are inspected but not licensed don’t have to take care of the animals and there are no consequences from the Dept of Agriculture.
    This makes no sense and it’s hard to believe and I hope someone can clarify.

    1. Shelter licensing in NC is not supposed to be voluntary, but the requirements for what constitutes are not included in the law or posted on any web page. They are in a “policy letter” that you have to obtain by emailing the head of the NCDA&CS Animal Welfare section, and they are worded in such a way that they are open to interpretation for small-time rescuers. The Haven, however, was very clearly subject to licensing, but they decided they were just going to “opt out.” Someone with time on their hands should send a public records request to NCDA&CS for all correspondence regarding The Haven, because reportedly they actually had their lawyer send a letter to NCDA&CS telling them to back off, which was apparently effective.

      But Hoke County officials have also been very aware of what has been going on at The Haven, and they ignored it forever, too. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

      Also, FYI, there have been loads of concerned animal advocates trying to get something done about The Haven for a while. Some of them started a Facebook page in 2015. Some of the older stuff is very interesting reading: https://www.facebook.com/Helpforthehaven/

  5. impo, the real issue is lack of ‘teeth’ in the NCDA regs; they are ‘rules’ not enforceable ‘laws’. They can issue monetary fines – but this only takes $$ away from any repairs, etc. that those funds could be used for, and these ‘rescues’ don’t have that kind of money anyway or they would have paid employees, vet care, proper housing, etc. Another issue as I see it is that the State does not have any protocols in place for Care/Housing of any seized animals. Without that, they cannot ‘take’ them — where ???? are they going to put them, feed them, provide vetting, etc. — same with local law enforcement — they are equally, if not more aware of conditions — but WHO/WHERE/HOW are they going to manage large numbers of animals – regardless of species? I’m not trying to offer an excuse for what has happened with this facility, and others in similar situations — but until the STATE fixes their problems the problem will not be fixed! Most of you may not remember ‘All Creatures’ over in Hendersonville NC — maybe 15+ years ago — a similar situation that continued for YEARS!! until a private organization stepped up and assisted the State with the closure. I totally blame the STATE for this — they KNEW and are trying to justify by saying ‘they kept trying to get them to come into compliance’ — how many chances should one get?

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