It's especially painful to see people and places that purport to help animals do precisely the opposite. That's what we discovered last week when The Humane Society of the United States' Animal Rescue Team helped the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable and Montgomery County Animal Control remove almost 300 dogs -- mostly pit bull types -- from poor conditions at a facility called Spindletop Refuge in Willis, Texas.
Our team worked more than 20 hours straight, until 6 a.m. the next day, to transfer the dogs off the property and transport them to the emergency shelter. A torrential rainstorm complicated the operation, and left everyone involved coated in mud.
According to Chris Schindler, one of our team members, the property looked well-maintained from the outside. That might have given people the false sense that this was a safe place to surrender animals in need. It wasn't.
"What we found inside was really one of the worst situations I've seen," Chris told me. "The ammonia levels were extremely high, so high that we had to take all the dogs out to the front porch to process them. The large house has air conditioning, but the other buildings don't. A former employee had come forward recently after 38 dogs died from heat exposure in one day, and this information allowed local law enforcement to take action."
Almost all of the 300 dogs were confined in crates. Dogs were sitting in their own waste, suffering skin conditions and pressure sores, and some had muscle atrophy from not being able to move around. Volunteer veterinarians attended to animals in the greatest need and distress. Volunteers from Houston Humane Society also helped out, and the emergency shelter is being staffed by HSUS staff and volunteers, Red Rover volunteers, and inmates. Animal Farm Foundation has dived in to help, too.
In Pennsylvania, another state in which our teams were active last week, the situation for the animals was not as dire, but it wasn't a safe place for dogs, either. There were nearly 200 dogs, mostly Chihuahuas, and they were the victims of a hoarding operation. The Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team called us in. Cruelty charges against the dogs' owners are pending.
It's bad enough that we in the humane movement have to handle puppy mill and animal fighting cases. But it's just as bad really when people who say they are doing the right thing allow conditions to deteriorate so much that animals' lives are threatened. Neglect and cruelty is terrible for animals, no matter the intentions.
We tell people shopping for a dog from a breeder to go see the parents of the dog, to make sure the place is not a puppy mill. With so many of these cases of neglect by those who say they are helping animals cropping up, it's also wise to do background work or a site visit to any self-described rescue or sanctuary. There are so many good rescue groups and sanctuaries doing important work for animals every day, and every one of them would agree with me on that point.
Calling yourself a sanctuary or a Samaritan isn't enough. You have to act like one.
Originally posted on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.