Institutions hoard from much the same motives as individuals
Mephistopheles, the devil himself of innumerable literary renditions of the Dr. Faust legend, might have devised the psychological plot weaving together the animal-related feel-good story of the month in June 2023, the animal-related feel-bad story of the month, and possibly the biggest skeletons-in-the-closet story to rattle academia in the present century.
The saga could also be narrated as a grim good-news-bad-news joke.
A chimp named Vanilla
To begin with the good news, “A former lab research chimpanzee named Vanilla was stunned when she gazed for the first time at the open sky, after being caged for 28 years,” narrated Heather Holeman of KFOR television in Fort Pierce, Florida on June 27, 2023.
“Save the Chimps,” Holeman explained, “stated that 28-year-old Vanilla had lived in the mid-1990s inside a small cage at a now-closed research lab in New York, before being moved to an animal sanctuary in California, where she lived in a moderate chain link enclosure with a solid top.
“She had never been outside of a lab cage or the garage-sized enclosure she was transferred to in California,” Save the Chimps said.
From LEMSIP to Wildlife Waystation
“When that sanctuary closed, Vanilla became one of the very last of its nearly 500 animals to be rehomed,” Holeman added.
ANIMALS 24-7 readers may be familiar with Vanilla’s plight at both the long defunct Laboratory for Experimental Medicine & Surgery In Primates [LEMSIP], formerly a New York University project, and at the now closed Wildlife Waystation sanctuary, where her holding conditions were better, but far from ideal.
Canine Lifeline founder’s home became death trap
The bad news, really no joke at all for anyone, but a grim illustration that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, was that on June 2, 2023, Canine Lifeline founder and president Barbara Wible, 68, was found collapsed at her home by a delivery driver who noticed that packages were piling up at her doorstep in Parma, Ohio.
Wible, reportedly suffering from terminal cancer, was hospitalized. The Parma Animal Shelter reportedly rescued 24 dogs found alive at the Parma location.
Thirteen dogs, however, had starved to death in their cages.
Barbara Wible was repeat offender
Two weeks later, a Portage Animal Protective League media release said, “On June 16, 2023, the Portage Animal Protective League’s Humane Investigations Department executed a search warrant at a Mantua [previous] home after receiving a tip that an animal cruelty charge was pending in another jurisdiction against the homeowner,” Wible.
“Inside the home,” the media release continued, “the humane agent discovered 146 deceased dogs in varying stages of decay. No dogs were found alive. Many of the dogs were found confined within their crates.”
Neighbors told media that the condition of the property indicated no one had been there since October 2022.
Volunteers without supervision
Canine Lifeline, a $200,000-a-year organization, “has been an all-volunteer network,” board members posted to Facebook, which “has matched over 6,000 dogs with their forever families.
“None of the volunteers were ever given access to either of Wible’s homes,” the board statement said. “Wible was a very private person who appeared, to us, to be devoted to these rescue animals; it appeared to be her life’s passion, and we are sickened and blindsighted [sic] to learn this was a facade. Wible gave no indication that she was seriously ill, nor that she needed help above and beyond what the volunteers were doing to assist at the adoption center or by fostering dogs within their own homes.”
Privacy, secrecy, & rescue do not go together
A red flag warning sign for anyone in animal rescue work should be that “a very private person” is taking in lots of animals without frequent supervision of his/her premises.
ANIMALS 24-7 has logged hundreds of closely comparable cases over the years, causing the miserable deaths of thousands of animals in custody of people who “appeared to be devoted to these rescue animals.”
In our experience, if someone pretends to be a saint, an inquisition is in order.
This brings us to the bones, the story of which is integrally intertwined with the mid-to-late 19th century extinction of the California golden bear, and the extirpation from most of California of pronghorn, tule elk, wolves, wolverines, beaver, sea lions, and sea otters.
Many of these species have now recovered from the human onslaught that followed the 1849 Gold Rush. The rest appear now to be tentatively returning.
But the native wildlife were scarcely the only targets, and some of these animals were at least partially collateral damage from the war of extermination waged against those Native Americans who had survived the epidemics brought a century or thereabouts earlier by Spanish soldiers, missionaries, and colonists.
“Private militias to slaughter Indians”
Detailed John Briscoe in the spring/summer 2023 edition of the California Supreme Court Historical Society Review, “The State of California legislature authorized private militias to slaughter Indians. Between 1850 and 1861 some 3,456 men signed up with 24 state-sponsored militia groups, who massacred Indians by the hundreds. The most scholarly account to date states that a minimum of 370 massacres were committed, and hundreds more smaller ‘vigilante’ killings.
“In just the period April 1850–December 1854, Indian massacres occurred from extreme Northern California (peoples of the Tolowa, Modoc, Yurok and Shasta tribes, to name just a few) to the southernmost part of the state, where the Cahilla and Cupeño were slaughtered.
The Indian Slavery Act
“In the 1850s, Serranus Hastings organized and financed Indian-killing expeditions. During this period he was also the first chief justice of California (1849–1851), as well as the state’s third attorney general (1852–1854),” whose name was given to the now recently renamed Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
“During the Civil War,” Briscoe continued, “Leland Stanford [for whom Stanford University is named] solicited volunteers for quasi-military campaigns against California Indians. As governor of California (1861–1863), he signed into law appropriation bills to fund those killing expeditions.”
Though California was nominally admitted to the United States as a “free state,” it had already authorized slavery as the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, and even after the emancipation of African-Americans in 1865, Native Americans who survived the massacres could still be enslaved, and often were.
As Briscoe narrated, “The Indian Slavery Act remained on the books for nearly a hundred years. It was not repealed until 1937.”
Bones in boxes
The bones of the victims of the mass murders and enslavements that Briscoe described often ended up in boxes stored since 1872 at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, founded only four years earlier, in 1868.
Hoarding bones for use in studies supporting the pseudo-science of eugenics was indeed among the earliest activities at U.C. Berkeley.
The Briscoe exposé became more-or-less the springboard for recent articles about the bones, and the efforts of Native American tribes to repatriate them for ceremonial burial, by Soleil Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle and Tyler Walicek of Truthout.
Their articles are preliminary to the scheduled August 28, 2023 publication by Steve Wasserman of Heyday Books in Berkeley of a book by historian Tony Platt, entitled The Scandal of Cal: Land Grabs, White Supremacy, and Miseducation at UC Berkeley.
Bringing together Vanilla the chimp, Barbara Wible, the bones, Platt, Wasserman, Mephistophles, and the Faust legend, reputedly based on the life of medieval scholar and alchemist Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480–1540), is hoarding psychology.
Hoarding psychology has been studied extensively in recent decades, focusing on cases like that of Wible, and also on cases involving individuals who hoard inanimate objects, not as parts of organized collections of informational, artistic, or other value, but simply to be keeping whatever the items, often including actual garbage.
Psychologists who study such matters tend to believe the motivating force behind irrational hoarding (and perhaps some relatively rational hoarding, too) is fear of death, and that hoarding represents a misdirected effort to control a life that is otherwise out of control.
Unfortunately, all too often the hoarder causes misery to many others, creates fire hazards that eventually kill people, and/or leaves animals to starve in filth.
But hoarding also appears to have an institutional form. Vanilla the chimp was among the living victims, as are many other chimpanzees and other once valued “research” animals held by various institutions around the world, usually caged and neglected in dingy outbuildings, long after any actual research ceased with the death, transfer, or disability of the former lead researcher.
Animal advocates have fought in court for decades to force the release to sanctuaries of chimpanzees kept by the National Institutes of Health and, formerly, by other federal agencies, against bureaucratic inertia which translates into wanting to keep the animals as assets, just in case another purpose can be found for them before they all die either of experimentally induced chronic conditions or old age.
Even dolphins have been in this situation.
Nearly 28 years ago ANIMALS 24-7 wrote an exposé and made some introductions which resulted in two Pacific whitesided dolphins, hoarded after brief research use, being transferred to SeaWorld San Antonio from a tiny pre-Marine Mammal Protection Act tank at the Steinhart Aquarium, operated by the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco.
Held in that tank, about the size of a typical living room, for 17 and 20 years respectively, the dolphins had become so stiff from lack of opportunity for movement that they could hardly swim normally.
At SeaWorld San Antonio, perhaps not the ideal destination but the best available to dolphins who were in no way candidates for release, the two dolphins enjoyed relatively decent lives until their deaths in 1996 and 2001, respectively.
What this has to do with Faust, who loomed large in the concerns of Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), and Mikail Bulgakov (1891-1940), among many others, as academic science evolved into a religion parallel in ritual and rigidity to traditional religion, is that Faust’s pursuit was to discover and control the secrets of life.
This required also discovering and controlling the secrets of death.
To accomplish this, Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles, also known as the Prince of Darkness and Lord of Death.
Other academics do not literally have such an option, and instead in many instances literally hoard death, including in the form of the unstudied bones of murdered Native Americans and even the bones of dinosaurs.
Indeed, the largest assembly of dinosaur bones ever was for decades stored beneath the bleachers at the Brigham Young University football stadium, still in the protective plaster jackets in which they were encased soon after former director Earth Science Museum director James A. Jensen [1918-1998] dug them up.
That collection was eventually all housed in various museums, 20 years after Jensen died.
Meanwhile, the hoarding behavior exhibited by the University of California at Berkeley, even after court orders ordaining that the Native American bones be repatriated to the tribes of dead, can be compared to the behavior of hundreds of generations of monks and nuns, who have hoarded the bones of tens of thousands of their forebears at the Vatican and many other religious edifices, as if controlling the bones of the deceased somehow helped them to control living and ever changing circumstance.
Delusions of hoarders
For these individuals, and the institutions that enable such behavior, science and religion have merged into ritualistic persistence in a pointless pursuit.
Returning the bones to the tribes claiming them, much like addressing the behavior of individuals such as Barbara Wible, will require exposing and addressing hoarding psychology.
Especially compounding academic hoarding situations, especially but not exclusively those involving living animals, is that the professors, administrators, and other perpetrators tend to be imbued with the Faustian notion that their impulse to control and possess is part and parcel of a virtuous quest for knowledge on behalf of the common good.
This is not unlike the delusion of animal hoarders and their enablers that collecting, keeping, and ultimately fatally neglecting animals amounts to “rescue,” and is “good,” no matter how much the animals suffer before their tortuous deaths.