Earlier this year, ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Agents arrived at a New York City apartment to find that dozens of cats and kittens had overtaken the small space. The cats were severely malnourished, and many suffered from upper respiratory disease. There were no litter boxes, and the floor was covered in several inches of feces and urine. Living among the filth and debris was an 85-year-old woman suffering from dementia—she had been hoarding animals for years.
Animal hoarding is a complex and intricate social issue with far-reaching effects that encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns. Victims can include cats, dogs, reptiles, rodents, birds, exotics and even farm animals. While it’s not clear why people become animal hoarders, current research suggests the cause is often attachment disorder in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, dementia, depression and other mental illness. The hoarder does not intend to inflict harm on animals, and in most cases, the hoarder can no longer take care of himself, much less multiple animals.
"We often see that animal hoarders have experienced some traumatic event or loss in their lives," says Fiona Knight, Cruelty Intervention Advocacy Manager at the ASPCA. “Usually, they are very lonely and isolated people—and the animals become their primary source of bonding and interaction.”
While the ASPCA does pursue cruelty charges when appropriate, in many cases, prosecution is not the answer. Not only are such cases difficult to successfully prosecute, but once released, hoarders are overwhelmingly likely to resume collecting excessive numbers of animals. The solution lies in supplying hoarders with the resources and tools they need to keep them from repeating their destructive patterns.
“As a clinical social worker, it is my job to go in and work with the hoarders. Not only do I educate them on the problems caused by having so many animals, but I also connect them with appropriate services,” says Knight. “Whether individuals need a therapist who specializes in hoarding, a cleaning service or the assistance of adult protective services, we provide the resources. Our first priority is to remove the animals and provide them with immediate treatment, but our job doesn’t end there.”
On July 12, Beth Hoskins was charged with 114 counts of animal cruelty, in addition to the 10 counts previously filed, for severely neglecting nearly 200 horses, dogs and cats on her property in Aurora, NY. Earlier this year, the SPCA Serving Erie County seized 73 horses and dozens of cats and dogs from Hoskins’ farm. The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team subsequently oversaw the sheltering and care of the horses. Hoskins now faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine per count.
Despite the pending charges, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia ordered the SPCA to return 40 of the seized horses to Hoskins. The unexpected ruling was accompanied by the conditions that Hoskins hire additional employees to care for the animals and that adequate care be provided. The SPCA retains the right to inspect the returned horses and to monitor their care (the remaining 33 horses are still under its authority).
“While the animals were under our care, they received medical, physical and environmental enrichment vital to their daily well-being—more importantly, time was spent helping rebuild their broken spirits,” says Jeff Eyre, ASPCA Northeast Director of Field Investigations and Response. “I can only hope the same level of care will be maintained under these new circumstances.”
Hoskins pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released without bail. She is ordered to return to court on August 18.
Since New York City’s stifling heat wave began in late June, carriage horses have been suspended and sent back to their stables 23 times: six in June and 17, thus far, in July.
According to the New York City Administrative Code, carriage horses must stop working and be allowed to rest in their stables when the temperature reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As the de facto enforcer of New York City’s carriage horse laws, ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Agents have been on hand to make sure carriage horse operations ceased and that the horses were safe.
“Temperatures at that level only compound the already difficult job performed by carriage horses,” says Joseph Pentangelo, Assistant Director of ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement. “Ideally, we would like to see this industry leave New York City entirely—but until then, ASPCA Agents will continue to make sure that the carriage horses are well cared for.”
The 90-degree threshold is a strict measure of air temperature alone. The law does not take into account humidity or the extreme heat that radiates off the city’s black asphalt streets onto horses’ legs and stomachs.
The ASPCA believes that our city’s unique environment is incapable of ensuring that horses and their human passengers stay healthy and safe, and we have been fighting to get the horses off our noisy, congested streets. To learn more about the fundamental cruelty of New York City’s carriage horse industry—and to see proposed humane alternatives and solutions—please visit our partner agency, NYCLASS.
On Wednesday, July 21, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 416-3 to pass H.R. 5566, the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act of 2010. The nearly unanimous affirmative vote, as well as the fact that 262 representatives attached their names to the bill as cosponsors, makes this a decisive victory for animals—especially considering that the bill was introduced only one month ago.
Representative Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced H.R. 5566 in response to the Supreme Court’s April ruling that the original Crush Act, a 1999 federal law banning the creation, sale and possession of materials depicting genuine acts of animal cruelty, is unconstitutional and overbroad in its scope. The Crush Act had succeeded in curbing commercial trade of “crush” fetish videos, which generally depict a woman’s feet as they crush to death small animals such as rodents and kittens. Now, in the absence of any enforceable federal law, this horrific underground industry is on the ascent.
H.R. 5566 amends the Crush Act to prohibit distributing, selling or offering to distribute or sell any depictions of animals being crushed, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or burned where such actions are illegal. Rep. Gallegly reportedly worked with law and constitutional scholars when drafting the bill to ensure that its language is narrowly tailored to be able to withstand strict First Amendment challenges.
Legislation of this kind must pass both chambers of Congress to become U.S. law—and so far, a companion bill to H.R. 5566 has not been introduced in the Senate. Congress will soon enjoy a month-long recess; upon its return in September, the ASPCA will encourage the Senate to take up the Crush Videos Act of 2010. The current federal legislative session (the 111th United States Congress) ends on January 3, 2011, so it is vital that the Senate act with the same speed and resolve demonstrated by the members of the House of Representatives.
We will alert ASPCA Advocacy Brigade subscribers when a Senate version of this bill is introduced, so please join the Brigade today and don’t miss any breaking news about the progress of this and other animal-related legislation.
After violent storms ravaged the Northeastern part of Kentucky, displacing thousands of families—including hundreds of companion animals—the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team arrived at the Pike County Animal Shelter in Pikeville, KY, to provide emergency transport and placement for more than 100 animals.
"Pets have been displaced just as people have," says Brandon Roberts of the Pike County Judge Executive's Office. "The transfer has allowed the Pike County Animal Shelter to accept pets from families who were forced to evacuate their homes." The shelter will hold the displaced pets until their families can accommodate them—there will not be a charge for the emergency boarding.
Over a two-day period, the transfer animals were safely transported in the ASPCA's custom-built animal transport trailer to various ASPCA Shelter Response Partners across the country.
Organizations that quickly stepped forward to support the ASPCA's relief efforts include: Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus, OH; Humane Society of Berks County in Reading, PA; Noah's Ark Animal Welfare Association in Ledgewood, NJ; Nashville Humane Association in Nashville, TN; and Elk County Humane Society in St. Mary's, PA.
"My hope is to get these animals into the great homes they deserve," says JoAnne Smith, Director and Humane Officer for the Elk County Humane Society. "We are proud to offer our full support to the ASPCA." Just last month, the ASPCA assisted Elk County Humane Society with the removal of nearly 400 cats from a local animal hoarder.
"Our team has the capability of responding to emergency situations across the country, and we will continue to provide supplies and support animals in Pike County as long as we're needed," says Kyle Held, the ASPCA's Midwest Director of Field Investigations and Response.
Stay tuned to ASPCA.org for more details on this developing story.