After Great Dane Rescue, Animal Advocates Call for Stronger Laws, More State Oversight
Animal cruelty has been in the public eye this year. About 80 Great Danes were recently rescued at a mansion in Wolfeboro - living in filthy conditions. Just last week, four horses were taken from a Deering farm, ill and neglected. And in February, more than 30 Persian cats were found in a Barnstead home, in squalid conditions. These cases raise questions -- about whether our state laws on breeding and animal cruelty should be tougher, about when neighbors and town officials should step in, and about the psychology of animal hoarding.
- Lindsay Hamrick - State director for the N.H. Chapter of the Humane Society of the United States. She worked in animal shelters for 12 years and oversaw a cruelty investigation team.
- Lisa Dennison - Executive director of the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
- Sarah Proctor - Director of the Veterinary Technology Program at UNH and clinical assistant professor at the Thompson School of Applied Science at UNH.
To listen to the full conversation, visit here.
Animal hoarders have different motivations:
Sarah Proctor: The first type of hoarder is the overwhelmed caregiver, who didn't intend to do this but it just happened. The next category of hoarders is the rescue hoarder, who maybe has some more mental health issues. That kind of person has more of an issue bonding to the other animal in an unhealthy way. The third category of hoarder is the exploiter hoarder, who maybe has more malicious intent that they're doing this for some kind of benefit for themselves. Those people are the hardest to intervene with because they are going to fight you harder than maybe some of the others.
Cases, such as the most recent one in Wolfeboro, have all the hallmarks of hoarding, which clearly have some mental health involved. People who do this think that they are helping these animals. -- Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Agriculture.
Information about animal hoarding: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/abuse_neglect/facts/hoarding.html?credit=web_id91919525
A chilling scene in Wolfeboro:
Sarah Proctor: The thing that you don't get from the news reports, the videos, the pictures, is the smell. Not just the smell of waste and feces, but the ammonia smell. You couldn't be in some of these rooms with no ventilation. You couldn't be in the room for more than 20 seconds without your eyes tearing and throat up closing because of the very high smell of ammonia and these room were rooms with no ventilation and the dogs didn't look like they had ever been out of the room. That was what hit me the most.
More on the Great Danes rescued in Wolfeboro: http://nhpr.org/post/84-great-danes-rescued-alleged-puppy-mill-wolfeboro#stream/0
Who is responsible for reporting and regulating animal cruelty cases?
Lisa Dennison: Towns are very reluctant to take on animal cruelty cases because of the costs involved. Thankfully, the Humane Society of the U.S. was able to step up in this case, because..there is no agency or even collection of agencies that could handle [this].
"These issues really do come down to a more local level, you have between local zoning regulations and animal cruelty and neglect regulations, [which] fall under the criminal code under law enforcement. So, local police force, local animal control officers, local health officers may all have a role. -- Ag. Commissioner, Lorraine Merrill.
Lindsay Hamrick: While the Department of Agriculture does not have jurisdiction over cruelty, they are a resource to local law enforcement in cases. And secondary to that, in terms of the Wolfeboro situation, the Department of Agriculture is the agency that regulates commercial breeders in the state, and so there is a state responsibility to regulate what is happening to animals, at least the ones that are being sold or adopted out. We believe very strongly that the regulation is key.
What needs to be done to prevent animal cruelty?
Lindsay Hamrick: In order to change [current animal cruelty laws], there has to be a ground swell of grassroots support, and so, in my work in New Hampshire, we put on grassroots meetings in the fall around the state to try to encourage citizens to get engaged in the political process because your legislators have to hear from you in order to raise to the level of change.
Currently, because the town in which the cruelty occurs is responsible and thereby their taxpayers, it is such an unrealistic burden on them. We have pushed in the past and we will continue to advocate for what’s called the Cost of Animal Care Law, which would require the defendant in these cases to cover the cost of care and those decisions would be made by a judge based on the evidence.
What can citizens do to help end animal cruelty?
Sarah Proctor: Donating to the Humane Society of the U.S. or donating to a local shelter that does cruelty investigation is a great way to spend your money...I think another thing an individual can do is do their homework before they obtain a [dog] to make sure that is isn't coming from a puppy mill.
I've been breeding for almost 40 years and I want people to know that breeders do care. We do all the health checks on our dogs; we start from the very first breath they take, we socialize them, we sit with them at night, we cry over them...and there are a lot of breeders like that. Exchange Listener Emily from Pembroke.
On how animals are viewed in modern society:
Lisa Dennison: [Animals] are absolutely regarded as property and certain animals have more rights than others. So, for example, dogs have more protection than cats; dogs are licensed - cats are not...And that's not even to speak to all the other animals we care for both big and small.
To report concerns of animal abuse call:
Information on how to report different forms of animal cruelty: