Animal Cruelty Investigation Ends in Suicide

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.

(stock photo via Pexels)

If you are struggling, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

4 thoughts on “Animal Cruelty Investigation Ends in Suicide

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I’ve defended many multiple animal keepers that ran afoul of authorities & it’s very difficult — they’re always prejudged. No one considers & deals with the trauma they are experiencing when their animals are seized. They are often coerced into signing them over & they feel enormous guilt. There needs to be some attention to this problem

  2. Very true. Hoarding, whether junk or animals, is a true mental illness. Often people start it to cope with a big loss in their life. Simply taking the animals will not help and only make it worse – especially if the animals are killed later. I watched such a case on TV some years back, Houston I think, an old woman in a filthy house. Animal control took all 50 of her cats, and killed 49 of them. She was screaming and trembling while they grabbed the cats. While some of the cats no doubt were in poor condition, I doubt nearly all of them needed to be disposed of.

  3. Your comments are spot-on!

    I just read an email from the organization (ARC) tasked with rescuing these animals, which included some before and after pics. What a gut-wrenching situation for ALL involved! Please accept my heartfelt Thank You for everything you do…day in and day out…for the abused and neglected animals across our country!

    There is no easy or clear answer to this pervasive problem, as noted by Mayo Clinic.

    For those of us not suffering from this devastating and destructive mental illness, it is almost impossible to extend sympathy to the hoarder. I view the hoarder as the perpetrator and all the animals as innocent, helpless, voiceless victims. While my intellect tries to view hoarding of animals as a mental health issue, my heart overrides it EVERY time! Changing this mindset is not easy, nor is it quick.

    Every image I see of sad eyes, mentally broken, filthy, and decimated animals forces me to ask HOW…WHY!

    * How does this situation go unnoticed/dismissed by family, friends, neighbors? Research says hoarding begins at a young age and intensifies with age. In other words, this behavior is NOT new!
    * How does anyone do nothing…knowing such a situation exists?
    * Why do we, as a society, CHOOSE to turn our head as if animal hoarding is a ‘normal’ behavior? I’m a firm believer that if one knows of pain and suffering and does nothing, they are as guilty as the person who caused the pain and suffering!

    It is very said that Mr. Smith did not receive the help and compassion he needed and deserved, and he chose suicide to stop his devastating sadness. It is also sad and tragic that countless others suffer in the same way. This heartbreaking situation received attention…how many hundreds will never see the light of day!!

    We’ll continue to read the incomprehensible stories and see horrific images of the animals who have suffered and died simply because we, as a society, choose to dismiss the root cause…YEARS of mental illness.

  4. Wow. This is so sad on so many levels. It’s so important to bring these issues to light. Make people aware. Look for signs. Help.

    Thank you!

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