by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.-Mahatma Gandhi
When we were kids, my sisters, my cousins, and I loved nothing more than going to our Uncle David’s house. His house was located in the Tower District, and for curiosity seekers like us, it was a treasure trove of temptation. An Arts/Entertainment critic for the Fresno Bee, David spent 42 years reviewing Philharmonic concerts, Good Company Players performances, FSU Keyboard Concerts, etc. I was lucky enough to be his date for art exhibits at various venues, where I was allowed to taste the free wine samples they offered. Not surprisingly, my uncle became an avid collector of just about anything art-related, including paintings, sculptures, vinyl LPs (kids: Google it), and an enormous library of books. There were stacks of car brochures, old newspapers (kids: ask your folks), and a giant compilation of one particular magazine in his office, which was simply known as The Playboy Room. Today, he would have been called a hoarder, but back then, he was just that rumpled relative who kept a few adolescent kids busy on a Saturday afternoon.
Some people collect snow globes and shot glasses, while others collect animals. They rescue the dozens of undernourished and unwanted dogs and cats roaming their neighborhood. The Hoarding Animals Research Consortium defines animal hoarding as: “having more than the typical number of companion animals; an inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and vet care. This neglect often results in starvation, illness and death.” Hoarders have big hearts, but this can often be a drawback. Recently, Animal Rescue of Fresno took in several dogs from a hoarding house. The small residence had 22 dogs, prompting the owners to reach out for help.Scooter, Sugar, and Dottie are fairly apprehensive, and will need some time to adjust. Boo Boo and Nibbler are poster pets for neglect, and due to severely rotted teeth, are missing almost all of them in their lower jaws. Hoarders have the best intentions, but usually become financially strapped and unable to afford even basic vet care. Animals aren’t spayed or neutered, and continue to breed in stressful, cramped conditions. This pertains to Molly, a frightened mommy dog with one lone pup, and Jo Jo, a skittish mother-to-be. A couple days after arriving, Jo Jo gave birth to a litter of adorable puppies, all by herself. Ah, puppy breath, a welcome ray of hope.
For hoarders, it usually starts out with one Chihuahua and a couple of Calico cats, and then snowballs from there. Hoarders often become socially isolated and alienated from family and friends. They refuse to give up their “babies,” believing nobody can provide as much love as they can. Despite the hazardous health conditions of their home, including animal waste and clutter, people may hoard for years without seeking any outside assistance.
At ARF, we have a family of four that are fondly known as The Ranch Dogs. Feral dogs living on a rancher’s land, they were being fed by the owner, Ben, who was a huge supporter of ARF. After Ben passed away and the dogs were wrangled, we inspected the property. It turns out not only were the dogs living in filth, but Ben had set up his own mini-ARF without telling anyone. Two huge yards housed several large dogs, while a third contained a dilapidated structure and five dogs, including a deceased one, completely decayed, skeleton and all. The last yard contained Ben’s old childhood home and roughly 15 dogs. After trapping began, more and more dogs seemed to emerge from the craters they had dug beneath the house. Eventually, an ancient Dachshund appeared, half-blind and lame in his hind end. The problem was frustrating, and could have been avoided, had Ben just reached out for our help. Ultimately, it was too much for him, and though he meant well, the dogs suffered for it.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, hoarding affects up to 250,000 animals per year, mostly dogs and cats. It is considered one of the most extreme forms of animal cruelty, as the victims’ misery may continue for years. It can also cause tremendous strain on overcrowded animal shelters, which already lack space and usually cannot financially provide the medical care these animals require. If you or someone who know is overwhelmed with animal hoarding, please reach out to ARF or another rescue of your choice. We are more than willing to help find good homes for your pets – no questions asked.
Here are some recent Central Valley hoarding cases:
4/1/16: A Reedley woman was sentenced to 16 months behind bars on animal cruelty charges. Authorities found two dead horses and 13 malnourished horses on her ranch four years prior.
9/13/16: Madera County animal control seized more than 25 animals from a rescue group, The animals were living in small filthy crates, with no food or water.
12/11/16: New Beginnings for Merced County Animals assisted with a hoarding case in Atwater. An elderly woman had more than 30 dogs in her home; the bed was covered in feces and urine.
6/16/17: In possibly one of the worst animal cruelty/hoarding cases Fresno has seen, 955 birds and small animals were discovered crammed in the back of a moving truck in June of this year. Stuffed in crates without food, water, or ventilation, these poor creatures were stuck in unbearable triple digit heat. A menagerie of exotic birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs were most certainly headed for swap meets and flea markets before Fresno Humane Animal Services came to the rescue. Animal Rescue of Fresno was also involved, taking in several chatty Lovebirds, and a couple dozen Finches.
In addition to hoarding, there is also the issue of backyard breeders. They may look like your friendly next-door neighbors, but are actually amateur animal breeders, primarily motivated by profit. These people are often not knowledgeable in proper breeding practices, and put monetary gain over the animals’ welfare. Dogs are not given proper medical care, and can develop many health issues down the road. Warning signs that you’re dealing with a backyard breeder include not asking questions of interested buyers, selling puppies too young, and reluctance to show the premises to potential adopters.In October of 2015, ARF received several Pomeranians from one of these breeders, all in very bad condition. Exclusively used for breeding, they didn’t understand physical affection, and became stiff as a board when you held them. They didn’t even know how to eat from a bowl, as their food had just been strewn about on the floor. Many of them underwent surgery to remove most of their useless teeth. Two of these sweet creatures were Ewok and Hershey. Ewok came in with absolutely no fur on his bum, and Hershey was the most terrified of them all. When you picked him up, he lost all bowel control and seemed completely traumatized by human contact. It’s amazing how they eventually responded to small acts of kindness like a simple stroke of the head, or being rocked in your arms. Hershey was fostered and adopted soon after. Ewok was adopted by a wonderful couple, and is now living the high life in Las Vegas.
In 2016, ARF became home to several French Bulldogs, also rescued from a backyard breeder. Considering their circumstances, they were all very outgoing, and happy to receive tummy rubs, and kisses on their squished faces. But it was obvious the females had just been bred beyond imagination. Such was the case of Dorothy, a silver-muzzled matron, who was later adopted by a fantastic couple.
One of the main problems with backyard breeders is volume; by saturating the market with their animals, they reduce the chances of shelter animals finding forever homes. According to research, only about 15% of pets adopted in the U.S. came from a shelter or rescue. Another frightening aspect about backyard breeders is the likelihood of their participating in animal breeding for illegal purposes, such as baiting or dog fighting. Whether dogs are desperately hoarded or continually bred before reaching their prime, it’s tragic for the animals. So the next time you’re searching for a new best friend, check out your local rescue or shelter. Your brown-eyed buddy might be waiting there, with a sad story like the ones above. Perhaps you can write him (or her!) a cheerful new chapter.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section and check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.