Earlier this month, authorities in Franklin county, NC served a search warrant at the home of Russel Keith Smith. They reportedly found 81 dogs, 9 ducks, a horse and a donkey in “horrible living conditions.” All the animals were taken away to a rescue in TN. No charges were filed as far as I know. Mr. Smith took his own life the following week.
As I’ve written previously, a more compassionate and knowledgeable approach is required when dealing with animal hoarders. Without treatment, hoarders whose animals are seized almost always acquire too many animals again. I’m not qualified to determine if this gentleman was an animal hoarder but the case does have some similarities to other hoarding cases.
Mental health treatment, along with the individual possibly being allowed to keep a very small number of animals while being monitored is worth consideration. It’s important to distinguish hoarders, whose animals end up suffering due to the individual’s untreated mental illness, from those who intentionally harm animals, e.g. dogfighters. The cases should be handled differently.
To be clear, I don’t know what happened with Mr. Smith and suicide is a complex issue. I’m not blaming anyone. Rather, I am advocating for more mental health services to respond to cases such as this. When all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
If you are struggling, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.