Headed 10 animal shelters in six states
Rick Collord, 72, a 42-year humane professional and chief executive of humane societies for most of that time, died on January 26, 2021 in Lexington, North Carolina, his home since 2017.
Born Irving Richard Collord III in 1948 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Rick Collord––no one ever called him Irving––was the son of car dealer and nationally ranked amateur golfer Richard Collord II.
Graduating from East Jefferson High School in Metairie, Louisiana in 1968, Rick Collord served in the U.S. Navy, then spent a year as a pre-veterinary student at Louisiana State University, before taking his first job in animal welfare in 1974 at the Boulder County Humane Society in Colorado.
“I’m going to stop this if it’s the last thing I do”
“I saw 100 animals put to death in what I considered horrendous fashion,” Collard told Florida Sun Sentinel staff writer Joanne Stanley in 1986. “They were thrown like sacks of potatoes into a wagon and rolled into a gas chamber. That day I said, ‘I’m going to stop this if it’s the last thing I do,’ and I’ve been trying ever since.”
Nearly 30 years later, in 2002, sixteen years after his Florida Sun Sentinel interview, Collord recalled his debut in shelter work to Portland Tribune reporter Lisa Baker.
“My first day there, I was required to gas 120 animals,” Collard said then. “I cried all the way home. I vowed then that I would change things.”
Collord moved on to an undercover job, investigating dogfighting for the Humane Society of the U.S., before returning to shelter work in Louisiana.
In 1979 Collord, Laura Lanza, and several other humane professionals formed the Louisiana Animal Control Association.
Collord later served on the boards of directors of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators and the Florida Animal Control Association.
Met nemesis animal hoarder in 1985
Heading Broward County Animal Control for approximately eight years, Collord became the first known, among many animal control chiefs and shelter directors, to try to bring to justice a multi-time convicted animal hoarder who at various times over the next 25 years used the names Vikki Kittles, Susie Mary Dietrich, Rene Depenbrock, Vikki Rene, Vikki Kittlas, and Lynn Zellan.
She was suspected by some investigators of also being a woman who was investigated in 2006-2007 for alleged animal hoarding in Hemet, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles County, California, as Anita Gilbert, Barbara Ryan, and Cynthia Gudger, but was eventually found mentally unfit to stand trial.
Photo comparisons of Kittles et al and Gudger et al were inconclusive, but the size, age, and behavior of the suspects matched.
Two horses in her bedroom
Six feet tall, heavy, profane, sometimes violent, and inclined to defend herself in court with long, paranoid rants alleging conspiracy theories, this individual and/or doppelgangers first came to Collord’s attention in May 1985.
Responding to complaints that Kittles and her mother, Jean Sullivan, 70, were illegally keeping and neglecting two horses in Kittles’ bedroom in Wilton Manors, Broward County, Florida, Collord impounded both horses, three cats, and 37 dogs.
Convicted of improperly keeping a horse within 75 feet of a dwelling, Kittles and her mother fled to a camp site near Ellenton, Florida. Last seen at the camp site, Sullivan disappeared without a trace.
Collord, though not directly involved, became part of Kittles’ conspiracy theories after more than 40 dogs and cats were seized from her Ellenton location in September 1987.
Staff revolt & pit bulls
Collord, meanwhile, weathered a March 1986 staff rebellion reportedly led by animal control officer Bennie Brunetto. The ten Broward County Animal Control officers objected to having to work odd hours and on weekends, the Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Brunetto, 20 years older than Collord, petitioned unsuccessfully for Collord to be fired. Instead it was Brunetto who departed. He died in 1999.
Collord also found himself taking heat for trying to enforce a 1985 Broward County ordinance requiring pit owners to carry $1 million in liability insurance. Broward County Commissioner Howard Forman pushed through to passage two different versions of the ordinance, both struck down by the Broward County Circuit Court on appeal by pit bull owners.
Collord, at the time, was himself a pit bull advocate and owner, but gradually became more cautious after one of his own pit bulls killed a goat. By the end of his career, Collord was often accused of being anti-pit bull, though he never refused to rehome pit bulls who did not exhibit dangerous behavior, if the owners seemed prepared to keep them out of trouble.
Several severe pit bull maulings occurred within Collord’s jurisdictions, but none are known to have involved pit bulls his agencies had rehomed, and there were no fatalities.
Collord left Broward County Animal Control in mid-1987, after the country adopted an ordinance cutting the holding time for impounded animals from five working days to just 72 hours.
Five working days was, and remains, the standard required since 1966 by the federal Animal Welfare Act and the predecessor Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, if animals are to be sold for biomedical research use. Since Broward County Animal Control had not sold animals to laboratories since before Collord’s tenure, the county commissioners reasoned that there was no need to maintain the five-day holding time.
Collord was quickly hired by the Broward County Humane Society.
There Collord in 1988 became one of the first animal shelter directors to combine training staff in how to correctly perform pentobarbital euthanasia with counseling for compassion fatigue, a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome common among shelter workers and veterinarians.
As there were at the time no specialists in addressing the compassion fatigue specific to shelter workers, brought on by having to kill healthy dogs and cats every day at a time when shelters received approximately seven times more intake than today, Collord hired a hospice care bereavement specialist to conduct the workshops.
Planned Pethood of America
As well as helping his staff to cope with euthanasia stress, Collord worked to find ways to reduce shelter killing, both by increasing adoptions and by promoting spay/neuter.
In particular, Collard formed an alliance with veterinarian Elton Gissendanner II to get dogs and cats sterilized at discounted and subsidized rates.
Recently retired from private practice, Gissendanner together with friends Bea and Robert Rose in 1988 founded Planned Pethood of America Inc., to continue work they had done together since 1970 under the auspices of Friends of Animals in Miami, funded by a thrift store that the Roses bought, ran, and deeded to Friends of Animals.
Upon succeeding Friends of Animals founder Alice Herrington in 1986, Priscilla Feral, who as of 2021 remains FoA president, closed both the thrift store and the clinic, leading to a seven-year lawsuit.
Boosted adoptions with North Shore Animal League help
After years of effort, Collard in 1991 persuaded the Broward County Humane Society board of directors to replace their 1950-vintage shelter, with a leaky roof and outdoor kennels, with a $3.5 million shelter which at the time was state-of-the-art.
But Collord acknowledged to the Miami Herald that the anticipated loss of kennel space during construction on the existing shelter site could necessitate the deaths of 2,000 more dogs and cats than the 10,000 per year the Broward County Humane Society was already killing.
“It makes us all very nervous, uncomfortable and downright sad,” Collord said.
Despite the December 1991 death of fundraiser Luke A. Cermola Jr., and disruption by Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, the new Broward County Humane Society shelter opened in March 1993.
Instead of having to temporarily increase euthanasias, Collord with the help of the North Shore Animal League achieved a 64% increase in adoptions during the shelter construction phase, rehoming 2,122 more dogs and cats in 1992 than the Broward County Humane Society ever had before.
Indeed, Collord boosted adoption demand enough for the Broward County Humane Society to begin rehoming some dogs for Broward County Animal Control as well.
Humane Society of Greater Miami
Gissendanner, meanwhile, was reportedly paid $100,000 a year to sterilize animals for the Humane Society of Greater Miami. In December 1992, 25-year director Kenneth McGovern resigned amid criticism for euthanizing large numbers of animals at the approach of Hurricane Andrew.
Collord, Humane Society of the Treasure Coast director Karen Medicus, and Humane Society of the United States representative Dave Pauli had won widespread recognition for avoiding euthanasias by evacuating animals to shelters in the U.S. Northeast, especially the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York.
Gissendanner, succeeding McGovern as director of the Humane Society of Greater Miami, took no salary, but continued to hold the spay/neuter contract.
Florida deputy attorney general Mike Burnstein in October 1993 called this a conflict of interest.
Leaving the Broward County Humane Society, Collord succeeded Gissendanner as director of the Humane Society of Greater Miami in January 1994.
Collord resigned only 20 months later to become executive director at the Clark County Humane Society in Vancouver, Washington.
Collard indicated that his reasons for relocating across the U.S. included the difficulty of fundraising in Florida, which had a fast-rising cost of living, high percentages of fixed income and lower income residents, and a veterinary establishment militantly opposed to low-cost neutering; but all of those were problems in southwestern Washington state, as well.
Further, relocating to Vancouver, Washington, brought Collord back into proximity to Vikki Kittles.
Between 1987 and 1993, Kittles was suspected but not charged in an animal hoarding case in Mississippi, and was identified by Denver veterinarian Jeff Young on the property of Mary Port, who with sometime associate Lu Ann Strickland was involved in several major neglect cases in the 1980s and early 1990s, plus a catastrophic 1995 fire.
By April 1993, however, Kittles was living in an old school bus near Brownsmead, in Clatsop County, Oregon, just 75 miles northeast of Vancouver, Washington, near the mouth of the Columbia River.
121 animals in a school bus
Clatsop County animal control Tammie Brunick removed 115 dogs, four cats, and two chickens from the premises. The animals had apparently not been allowed to leave the old school bus for months.
Kittles, after a trial repeatedly postponed and prolonged by her own bizarre behavior, was convicted of 42 counts of cruelty in February 1995. She eventually served seven months in jail.
Collord was among many people in animal care and control who closely followed the trial, and expressed relief when Kittles, upon her release in November 1995, temporarily vanished to parts unknown.
Collord renamed the Clark County Humane Society, founded in 1897, whose name was shared by several other humane societies in other states. The new name, Collord argued, the Southwest Washington Humane Society, better reflected the multi-county service radius.
Collard had much bigger ideas than that, but after years of unsuccessfully advancing a plan to build a $6 million new shelter in nearby Battle Ground, Washington, to the point of actually buying the land, Collord departed in October 2003 to become understudy to 29-year Atlanta Humane Society president Bill Garrett, as Garrett’s hand-picked successor upon his eventual retirement.
Acceding to economic reality, Collord’s successor at the Southwest Washington Humane Society in December 2004 cancelled the building plan.
Collard during his three-year stint at the Atlanta Humane Society led nationwide animal care-and-control community opposition to the introduction of a microchip identification system used in Europe and favored by the International Standard Organization, in place of the microchip identification system which had already become established in the U.S., after an eight-year battle among users and manufacturers to achieve cross-system compatibility.
The ISO microchip was favored by the Banfield veterinary hospital chain and by PetSmart, hosting many in-store Banfield locations, but Collard won the fight when in May 2004 Banfield quit marketing the ISO-compliant chips.
Garrett finally retired in February 2006, after an honorary promotion to Colonel in the Georgia State Militia by Governor Sonny Perdue, who was later Secretary of Agriculture throughout the Donald Trump presidential administration.
Collord, however, lasted only months before Garrett returned as interim executive director, succeeded in July 2007 by Carl Leveridge.
Returning to Washington, where Collord had been active in the Washington State Federation of Animal Care & Control Agencies, he next headed the Clallam County Humane Society in Port Angeles, population 19,000.
The shelter, built in 1956, renovated in 1983, served a total Olympic Peninsula population of about 71,000.
Again Collord hoped to rename the organization and build a new shelter. Again thwarted, Collord left in December 2007 to become executive director of the Cheyenne Animal Shelter in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Nine years later, in 2016, the Clallam County Humane Society became the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society and finally built a new shelter.
Back in Kittles’ wake
Collord in Cheyenne again found himself in proximity to Vikki Kittles, then going as Rene Depenbrock, or at least having to deal with the trail of trauma she left there.
After leaving Clatsop County, Oregon, Kittles/Depenbrock turned up next in Red Desert, Wyoming, where 74 dogs were impounded from her trailer in March 1997.
Just one day later, 40 cats, six dogs, and a rabbit were impounded from Kittles/Depenbrock’s vehicle in Rawlins, Wyoming.
In May 2001, 48 cats and six horses were impounded from Kittles/Depenbrock in Laramie County, Wyoming.
After that, though Kittles/Depenbrock appears to still own property in Wyoming, she again dropped out of sight. She was tentatively identified by Pets Alive founder Sara Whalen, of Westchester County, New York, as the short-term employee who beat her up and robbed her in 2004, after Whalen approached the suspect with questions about her identity.
Whalen died in March 2007 of a virulent cancer discovered after she suffered a broken back while trying to move a pony.
Wyoming became magnet for animal hoarders
The individual identified as Barbara Ryan, Anita Gilbert, and Cynthia Gudger appeared in California in 2006.
Collord did not directly deal with Kittles again in Cheyenne, but public officials remembering the trouble and expense of repeatedly prosecuting her had become wary of addressing other mass neglect cases. That, in turn, made rural Wyoming a magnet for other animal hoarders purporting to be “no kill” sheltering advocates.
On top of that, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter during the year before Collord arrived had “coped with the fallout from its decision to euthanize 42 dogs ailing from canine influenza,” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle city/county government reporter Judi Rogstad told ANIMALS 24-7.
Rogstad covered Collord’s repeated efforts over the next four and a half years to bring animal hoarders to a semblance of justice, and to responsibly rehome the animals.
Along the way, Collord increased the days of shelter operation from 305 days per year to 361.
Twice removed 100+ animals from “no kill” shelter
The incidents leading to Collord’s departure, Rogstad believed, came when in both March 2010 and March 2011, “Collord’s guys removed more than 100 dogs, cats and rabbits from Litl Bit of Love Animal Rescue & Sanctuary–– situated in a manufactured house on a rural 10 acre lot. The search warrant said the dogs were living in the house in crates so filthy, and urine was dripping onto the animals below. The owner, Marci Biesheuvel, was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
“An acquaintance who runs a rescue took in some of the dogs,” Rogstad said. “Some had lived in confinement their entire lives and they sound to me as if they didn’t get the mental stimulation they needed to develop into normal dogs.”
Despite the weight of evidence, however, Biesheuvel escaped significant penalties. A 2010 conviction brought her a probationary sentence. The 2011 charges were dismissed on procedural technicalities.
Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield, heading the Cheyenne Animal Shelter board of directors, announced Collord’s departure in July 2012.
Biesheuvel was again charged with mass neglect of dogs and cats in March 2016. She died at age 59 in an October 2018 car crash.
Finished career at no-kill Rescue Ranch
Following five years in retirement, Collord returned to the animal care-and-control field in May 2017 as executive director of Rescue Ranch, a nonprofit sanctuary and humane education society founded by Krissie Newman, wife of NASCAR driver Ryan Newman in Statesville, North Carolina. Collord retired from that position at age 70 in mid-2020.
A Society of Animal Welfare Administrators obituary noted that Collord had also served on the local boards of directors of the American Animal Hospital Association, Southeast Animal Control Association, and Humane Association of Georgia.
Collord, in addition, at various times filled advisory roles with the Iams, Beyer and Schering-Plough corporations.