Iowa cases exemplify national trend
DES MOINES, Iowa––Arrested on February 13, 2017, Bully Breed Miracle Networking & Rescue founder Lindsey Morrow, 41, is awaiting trial in Warren County, Iowa, on five counts of animal torture, five counts of animal neglect, second-degree theft, second-degree fraudulent practice and ongoing criminal conduct.
Alerted to conditions of severe neglect by a would-be volunteer for Bully Breed Miracle Networking & Rescue, investigators found three decomposing dead dogs and 19 severely neglected dogs at Morrow’s former premises in Indianola and Sandyville.
“Rescue” founder allegedly starves children
The Morrow case was the second alleged “rescue hoarding” situation in less than five months to horrify the Des Moines region. In nearby Polk County, CARE Pet Rescue founder Nicole Marie Finn, 42, of West Des Moines, and Joseph Michael Finn II, 45, of Urbandale, are awaiting trial for the October 24, 2016 death of their daughter, Natalie Finn, 16, who “was tortured by her parents and deprived of food, clothing and health care, according to court documents,” wrote Des Moines Register crime reporter Kim Norvell.
“Natalie Finn died from emaciation due to denial of critical care, according to the Polk County medical examiner’s office,” Norvell added. “Criminal complaints filed in Polk County allege Nicole Finn killed her daughter ‘intentionally, willfully, deliberately, with premeditation and malice aforethought,’” while also “secretly confining Natalie and two of her siblings, a 14-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, inside their small brick home.”
Claimed to be an “approved rescue”
While Natalie Finn starved to death, “CARE Pet Rescue had several Go Fund Me campaigns requesting money to pay for animal care,” Norvell reported, and claimed to be listed as an “approved rescue” by Adopt-A-Pet.com, though no such listing appears at the Adopt-A-Pet.com web site.
Both recent Iowa “rescue hoarding” cases involve the failures of small, unsupervised, decentralized organizations that “pull” dogs and cats from conventional shelters where they might be euthanized at the end of a holding period of usually five days to two weeks.
The online CARE Pet Rescue mission statement declares that it exists “To rescue companion animals in Iowa and throughout the Midwest who are in danger of being euthanized due to shelter overpopulation…dedicated to rescuing homeless and abandoned animals, primarily dogs from high-kill shelters and owners who can no longer care for them.
“Companion Animal Protection Act”
Such organizations have long been touted as the future of animal sheltering by no-kill advocates including No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd, author of a model “Companion Animal Protection Act” modeled on the 1998 Hayden Act in California, which requires public shelters to transfer animals to registered charities, but imposes no animal care accountability standards.
Winograd helped to win passage of the Hayden Act as director of law and advocacy for the San Francisco SPCA under Richard Avanzino, who went on to head Maddie’s Fund. During Avanzino’s tenure, 1999-2015, Maddie’s Fund granted $188.7 million to various organizations to advance no-kill goals, but put no money into helping to enforce animal care standards
“We do not kill family members”
“Even if a shelter has horrible customer service, is in bad shape, is noisy and smelly and unattractive, go save a life,” Avanzino urged Aeon writer Sabine Heinlein in 2015, “because, in doing that, you are going to stop the killing of our family members on four legs. The message should be, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the organization is, take a pet home, save a life. We do not kill family members,” Avanzino emphasized, adding “When we talk about homeless people, their life is less than perfect, but just because they are homeless we don’t round them up and put them down. When we hear of foster homes that have been abusive to children, we don’t take the child away and kill it.”
Attractive though that message sounds to much of the animal care community and the public, reality is that failure to establish and enforce strict care standards all too often turns “no kill” intent into “slow kill” outcomes, including at times for children like Natalie Finn and her siblings.
63 shelter & “rescue” failures in 14 months
U.S. animal shelters and “rescues,” usually with nonprofit status and social media pages, have over the past 14 months collapsed at the rate of more than one a week––a record pace, up sharply from the 2015 shelter or “rescue” failure rate of about one every 10 days.
U.S. animal shelters and “rescues” are now failing, leaving “rescued” animals in need of re-rescue, at more than twice the failure rate of the 2000-2009 time frame of about one every two weeks, and more than ten times the failure rate of the two decades 1980-1999, according to the ANIMALS 24-7 log of mass neglect cases.
Nearly 5,000 dogs and cats, 1,000 horses, and countless small mammals, reptiles, and birds were impounded in 2016 from failed animal shelters and “rescues” around the U.S.
The good news is that most of the impounded animals survived.
50,000 once-rescued animals suffer neglect
Probably thousands did not. ANIMALS 24-7 estimates that for every animal re-rescued from a “rescue hoarding” situation, at least 10 remain in similar conditions, meaning that as many as 50,000 once-rescued animals are now suffering from critical neglect, perhaps 10% of them likely to die in any given month.
But we may never be able to accurately estimate the death toll, since in most failed shelter and “rescue” hoarding cases, most of the remains are quietly disposed of, never to be logged into a data base, long before overcrowding and neglect come to public attention.
That is not yet the really bad news.
Drug abusers discover tramadol
The really bad news is that even if the U.S. economy does not crash soon, as many economic forecasters fear it will, new developments in drug abuse appear likely to ensure that the “rescue hoarding” phenomenon will soon get much, much worse.
Reported Richard Morgan for the New York Post on January 16, 2017, “People are now maiming their pets to score drugs.”
Explained Morgan, “Of all the consequences of the nation’s opioid epidemic — which last year killed 33,091 people, or one overdose death every 15 minutes — the strangest may be how it has increased the abuse of dogs.
“Addicts have discovered that the painkiller tramadol, prescribed by veterinarians across the country for pets with arthritis or other debilitating ailments, is the same drug prescribed to human cancer patients to dull their pain,” continued Morgan. “And compared to the more widely abused opioid oxycodone, which can cost up to $10 for a 10-milligram pill, tramadol is dirt-cheap.”
Shelters & “rescues” set up to score drugs
Among the easiest, most accessible ways for addicts to collect tramadol prescriptions is to set up a “no kill shelter” or shelterless “rescue” for aged and injured dogs with chronic pain, the bigger the dog the better.
Prescriptions for cats by comparison do not score much tramadol, since cats are too small to need large amounts.
Combining the “shelter” or “rescue” with a “dog-flipping” operation and other fundraising mechanisms, including social media solicitations and accepting owner-surrendered animals for a “rehoming fee,” can keep an addict in money as well as drugs.
Old problem gets a new face
Of course an association of “rescue hoarding” with drug abuse is nothing new. At least one of the biggest “no kill” shelter failure cases on record, brought to light and prosecution in 1986, involved shelter operators who allegedly diverted donations to buy cocaine. Several other cases of embezzlement from animal shelters exposed during the 1980s involved stealing donations to buy cocaine.
Misuse of drugs commonly used in animal sheltering is also nothing new. Cases of theft and abuse of drugs including the barbiturates used for euthanasia, animal sedatives, and ketamine used to immobilize animals during surgery have afflicted the animal sheltering and veterinary communities for decades.
To help control misuse of veterinary drugs, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency requires animal shelters and vet clinics to maintain strict record-keeping and drug storage precautions.
“Shelterless rescue” makes scamming easy
Even some instances of substance abusers founding an “animal shelter” or “rescue” as cover for legally obtaining wholesale quantities of prescription drugs, which are then diverted into illegal use, have occasionally come to light abroad.
But such cases have not occurred in the U.S. until recently, and have not involved common, relatively inexpensive sedatives. The trouble and expense of maintaining even the facade of a bricks-and-mortar animal shelter as a pretext for fundraising and obtaining drugs tends to be more work than substance abusers are usually able to invest in their habits.
What has changed, with the advent of shelterless “rescues” doing fundraising and adoptions entirely through social media, is that addicts––along with practically anyone else––can now do business in the name of helping “save” dogs and cats without having a physical address that anyone can go and check at any time.
But dogs are needed
Indeed, a shelterless “rescue” need not actually have any animals in physical custody. CARE Pet Rescue, for instance, claimed to be “working with committed volunteers, foster homes, local veterinarians, trainers, and boarding facilities.”
A shelterless “rescue” can exist entirely in cyberspace, as some have, scamming thousands of dollars from gullible donors.
But to get prescriptions for tramadol enough to supply an addict, or a tramadol resale business, a scam “rescue” does need to have dogs enough stashed somewhere to be able to parade them in front of prescription-writing vets.
That leads to growing numbers of “rescued” dogs, especially ubiquitously available pit bulls, hidden away in yards and sheds after being “pulled” from “kill shelters.”
Untreated mental illness
“Rescue hoarding” in the late 20th century appeared to be driven chiefly by the same demons afflicting private individuals whose pet-keeping habits eventually collapsed into gross neglect. Scoring drugs and money were rarely among the visible motivations for the hoarding behavior, though delusions about saving animals from death at conventional shelters were and are.
Usually, according to a variety of sociological and psychological studies of animal hoarding behavior, the hoarder suffers from untreated mental illness centering on an obsessive fear of death, depression, and often alcoholism or drug abuse.
Typically hoarding begins coincidental with bereavement: the loss of a spouse, child, or parent. Typically the hoarder is a socially isolated individual who before the onset of mental illness already had large numbers of pets, or was involved in an animal-related occupation such as dog-breeding, farming, or operating an animal shelter.
Typically, as the hoarder’s mental condition deteriorates, the quality of animal care the hoarder provides deteriorates too.
4,000 impoundments per year
Classical, traditional hoarding is still a problem––a big problem, accounting for an average of about 4,000 dog, cat, and horse impoundments per year in the U.S.
Individual hoarding cases resulting in legal intervention more than tripled during the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, as the post-World War II “Baby Boom” generation entered middle age and began going through the typical mid-to-late-life losses of parents and spouses.
But growing recognition of the hoarding phenomenon among law enforcement, the humane community, and the public appears to have kept the numbers of animals impounded from individual hoarding cases within a more-or-less steady range in recent years.
Nearly 5,000 shelter/rescue failure impoundments in 2016
The same could be said of the total numbers of animals in shelter and rescue failure cases––if only because intervention appears to be coming sooner. The average number of dogs and cats impounded in shelter and rescue failure cases brought to light in 2005 and earlier was 127; the average now is down to 88.
But three times in five years now, in 2012, 2014, and 2016, the number of dogs impounded in neglect cases from “rescue hoarders” has exceeded the number impounded from private individuals.
Close to “puppy mill” numbers
In both 2012 and 2016 the number of dogs impounded from “rescue hoarders” has also very nearly equaled the number impounded from “puppy mills.”
Also in 2016 the number of cats impounded from “rescue hoarders” for the first time nearly equaled the number impounded from “crazy cat ladies” without the formal trappings of “rescue” and sheltering.
The lack of accountability in shelterless rescue was meanwhile underscored yet again by another case shocking the Midwest.
“Rescued” dogs shot
Brian Moore, 25, was in January 2017 charged with eight counts of misdemeanor cruelty for shooting eight dogs at the home of erstwhile “rescuer” Whitney Smither, 19, in Horatio, Arkansas.
“Smither is listed as a suspect on the incident report,” reported Sarah Mervosh of the Dallas Morning News on January 11, 2017, “but has not been charged. Brian Hankins, a Sevier County investigator, said authorities had not been able to interview her because she has been living in Indiana.”
Smither, representing Ark-La-Tex Animal Rescue in Texarkana, Texas, had been allowed to “pull” more than 100 animals rescued from the Fort Worth city animal shelter.
Most remain unaccounted for.
Wrote Mervosh, “Her boyfriend, Brian Moore, told law enforcement he shot [the eight dogs, some with Fort Worth shelter microchip identification] because they had heart worms or posed a threat to cows or humans. At least one dead cat and pieces of other dead animals also scattered the [Horatio, Arkansas] property, photos taken at the scene show.
“Other dogs had been abandoned and were found living under the house or roaming the area, according to a Sevier County Sheriff’s Department incident report. A veterinarian treating the surviving dogs said they had medical issues,” Mervosh added, “including heartworm, eye infections and wounds from being attacked by other dogs.”
Unfortunately, the Moore/Smithers case is neither the first nor the last nor the biggest such case to come to light, even in the first 60 days of 2017––just, perhaps, the most obvious instance of shelter personnel eager to increase their “live release rate” failing to ask basic accountability questions.