Field Notes: Ala. Hoarding Rescue

 The story below is a first-person account of the rescue from Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty for The HSUS.

I had worked with local officials for weeks to coordinate this hoarding rescue in Houston County Alabama. I had seen graphic photos of the condition of the dogs and cats, and had heard detailed descriptions of the immense rural property. But it was only when we arrived on the scene early Monday morning that I was struck by what a huge undertaking this rescue would be.

Dirty Sally’s Pet Pals was comprised of 22 acres of makeshift pens, old trailers, endless piles of trash and chained dogs. Just mapping and labeling the scene seemed like it would take hours—and our team had at most 11 hours of daylight to get the job done before the sun set. No one relished the idea of clambering around the hazardous property in the dark to remove animals.

This rescue was complicated further by the fact that we had stumbled upon a sort of hoarders’ commune. There were four different individuals on the property all claiming some of the animals as their own—some with six or ten animals, and some with dozens. None of these people seemed to realize or be alarmed by the horrible condition of the animals under their care.

Walking the property after we first arrived, I was struck by how many dogs were spread out haphazardly across the property. To get from one side to another we had to wind a narrow path through chained dogs and large rusty pens. Just when you thought you had reached the end of the property and seen the last of the animals another section lay ahead of you with more dogs. Each and every one of these dogs clamored for food, attention, and care. At one point the sheer need of these animals was overwhelming to me and I had to take a moment to compose myself.

I collected my thoughts and got through the day by envisioning these animals free from the neglect of their current lives. I thought of the old dog who lived in the same spot day after day and whose chain had worn a deep grove into the tree stump he was attached to. I could see the relief in his face when we finally freed him from that tiny circle that had been his life.

I also thought of the first dog I saw on the property—a dog so completely overcome with mange that his skin was cracked, bleeding and swollen. He had no hair and it was impossible to guess at his breed. Yet he relaxed under my touch and reveled in the attention he was receiving.

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For each and every one of these dogs, many of whom likely lived for more than a decade in such horrendous conditions with so little attention, today marked a new chapter in their lives. A chapter where they would receive adequate medical care, proper food and nutrition and start to get the attention they so deserve.

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