When Rescue Goes Wrong

December 9, 2016 | We Learn | Story by Tara Renner
You’ve probably heard of hoarding. Maybe you’ve seen a news report, or your neighbor’s mother-in-law has a problem. Someone whose house is impassable, a fire hazard. He or she is a collector of things that would be considered mostly junk to the rest of us, but for some deeply, psychologically inexplicable reason, these things are precious and necessary treasures to that individual. The collection piles up and up, until only narrow passageways are navigable, or not even that. The authorities are called. Television shows are filmed, and we gaze in horror and amazement.

And then there are another breed of hoarders, those who have innocent, voiceless victims as the chosen item of acquisition. There have been studies, and research, and theories. No one seems quite able to pinpoint the exact reason why some people hoard, or why they specifically hoard animals. When it happens, it’s sad, and it’s cruel beyond imagining.

I volunteer with an organization called Red Rover. It’s a support organization that functions like Red Cross. We mobilize to disaster areas, set up temporary shelters, and do care-in-place for displaced animals. We work in conjunction with other animal relief organizations such as ASPCA, HSUS, and others.

My last deployment was a large one. Local sheriffs had confiscated over 200 animals on a rural farm, from a family owned facility that was calling itself a rescue operation. We set up in a large warehouse, not knowing on the first day what to expect. Large trucks finally arrived at midnight, full of sad, frightened, malnourished dogs. All had fleas. Many had skin diseases, ear mites, untreated wounds. Even twenty or so cats. We had been at it all day. We worked through the night. Two hours sleep. Again the next day.

“We worked through the night. Two hours sleep. Again the next day.”

Eventually, we saved all the animals – but one. The owners of this farm thought they were running a “rescue”. It was really a shop of horrors. How could they not see this?

They tell us hoarding is a mental illness. We need to feel compassion for those who suffer from it. As I helped lift dogs on and off the makeshift veterinary tables, assisting vets with exams, some dogs actually wagged their tails, and licked my hand. They knew they had been saved. I’m trying, I am. It’s just hard to feel that compassion some times.

The happy ending: the owners were prosecuted and barred from future ownership. All the pets have new homes. And now we volunteers move on to the next one. I hope we get there in time.

Author’s note: if you would like to assist with Red Rover’s efforts, go to www.redrover.org and you can make a donation to this worthwhile cause. Tara is currently writing an article about her rescue dog Willow, soon to be published in a compilation of stories about rescued animals. She is the mom of many rescued animals, and foster mom of several others, and also two lovely human boys. She holds a B.S. degree in biology and resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Red Rover responders

If you enjoyed this post, you should read “Two Rescue Chihuahuas” here.
Do you have your own rescue story? Share below:

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  • Lkg / December 10, 2016

    I have always admired your love and passion for animals!

    • admin / December 10, 2016

      That is so sweet, thank you. All of our contributors appreciate the love!

  • Will Rodman / December 11, 2016

    You mentioned the organization you pulled animals from labeled itself a rescue organization? This leads me to think they were, at one point, doing or trying to do the right thing. Clearly, they crossed some line in the past where their good intentions, and maybe good work, moved into something sick and twisted that they could not see.

    Where is that line drawn?

    When does rescuing become hoarding? When someone acquires 5 animals? 10? 20? 50? …. When does it become an illness? When they can no longer care for them adequately and the animals are malnourished and wandering around in their own feces fighting each other for food? Or is it based merely on the volume of animals? Both? or something else?

    Is it their inability to part with the animals they have rescued (hoarded)? A need to feel good about ones self for doing good when one is in fact doing harm?

    We all know “cray cat ladies” that continue acquiring new “family members” ad infinitum. When does a person finally cross over to the dark side of things from well intentioned do-gooder to out of control hoarder whose life is consumed by their animals?

    • Tara Renner / December 12, 2016

      Thanks for that thoughtful response Will. These are all excellent points that you make. I do not claim to be a mental health professional, and in the situation that I reported on, I did not actually visit the home or property to witness the abuse. We (volunteers) were given first hand accounts by Humane Society professionals and viewed some video, which is available on the Red Rover website.

      I have attended some lectures on hoarding, and have studied it a bit as it relates to animals. What I’ve learned so far is that the causes of hoarding are not well understood. It seems to relate to other mental health issues, and/or stem from earlier traumas. One definite fact that is repeated over and over, is hoarding is very hard to treat, and hoarders will almost always regress without intensive treatment.

      It may be hard to say exactly when someone has “crossed the line” from a few too many animals, into that dangerous territory. However, there are signs that the professionals look for, and they include some of the things you mention. Just having a lot of pets does not necessarily qualify one as a hoarder. However, if the animals can no longer be properly cared for and are obviously malnourished, cannot be seen by a vet because the owner can’t afford medical care, the animals are not spayed/neutered and are proliferating, the property and household are buried in animal filth, this can meet the requirements. Another definite sign of hoarding is the owner’s own attitude about the animals. He/she believes that s/he is providing a safe and loving environment for the animals, AND believes that no one else could do a better job. Therefore, s/he is unwilling to give up even one animal, for fear the pet will suffer a worse fate or will not be taken care of properly. The owner is completely unable to see the situation in front of him/her.

      Think of the situation as much like an anorexic, who cannot see his/her own body wasting away in the mirror, but believes s/he is still obese. This is why hoarding is a mental health illness.

      You can find much more information on the internet. Thank you for your interest!

      • admin / December 12, 2016

        Your comments are both so moving, for their detail and dialogue. Thank you both so much.

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