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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Rescue

Dogs rescued from squalor resorted to cannibalism

Fifty-four dogs - living in a mobile home with feces caked 4-feet high in some spots, traumatized from the lack of human interaction and hungry enough to resort to cannibalizing the carcasses of some dogs - have been rescued from a hoarder in New Mexico in what is being described as a "truly gruesome scene."

Many of the dogs, mostly Jack Russell Terriers and Rat Terriers, are suffering from lacerations and mites while a puppy has some deformity in his back legs, probably from inbreeding, according to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society.

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Humane society spokesman Bill Hutchison says conditions inside the house where the dogs were living were about as bad as rescuers had ever encountered. "There was no visible area of bare floor," he told Love of Dogs. "Feces was caked two- to four-feet thick in some areas. There was trash, dirty dishes, dirty clothes and other less identifiable flotsam piled everywhere. Water had been left running inside the house re-hydrating much of the feces and biological matter in that room, making it a truly gruesome scene."

Animal Protection of New Mexico, the Attorney General's Animal Cruelty task force and San Miguel County Animal Control and the humane society teamed up to seize the dogs from the home in San Miquel County after receiving complaints.

Rescuers found the remains of some dogs that had been cannibalized by the hungry dogs, Mr. Hutchison said. "Some had the skull and spinal column intact, others were just piles of bones." (As is seen in foreground in photo at left from the Santa Fe Humane Society).

Rescuers believe the dogs were cannibalized post-mortem, Mr. Hutchison said. "Aside from a couple of bite wounds, none of the dogs showed signs of having extensively fought with one another. My best guess would be that the cannibalized dogs were mothers who died in giving birth and elderly dogs."

Twelves of the dogs are being cared for by San Miguel County Animal Control while 42 were taken in by the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. The dogs received veterinarian treatment, which included vaccinating, spaying and neutering and heartworm testing.

Some dogs were in good enough condition to be put up for adoption while others will need extensive rehab, Mr. Hutchison said. "For the most part, their health was pretty good. Psychological rehabilitation for some, however, will take longer."

Many of the dogs were frightened (as is seen in photo above provided by the Santa Fe Humane Society) just at the sight of people, Mr. Hutchison said, and the dogs that need emotional care will be placed into foster homes. "The foster process helps them gain confidence first around people and then in a variety of situations. They learn to trust."

Many hoarding survivors have never seen a human being except for their owner, Mr. Hutchison explained. "Learning to be around other people can be a terrifying experience. The process usually involves tremendous amounts of patience and consciousness of one's own actions around the dogs, who can misinterpret sudden movements or other normal behaviors."

Mr. Hutchison says he is hopeful the dogs can be rehabilitated and has been working with two of them - one called James and the other Shy Girl - in his office at the humane society.

"James has made huge strides, going from cowering under my printer table to standing up against the baby gate in my doorway to solicit attention from passers-by in the hallway," he said. "Shy Girl will take much more work. She still makes herself into a tiny ball in the furthest corner of my office."
Mr. Hutchison expects the hoarder to be prosecuted, which he says is the best way to handle cases like these. "While some early research pointed toward an obsessive-compulsive disorder, current research suggests most hoarders suffer from an attachment disorder, usually stemming from some childhood trauma. What they need most, in my opinion, is treatment over simple incarceration. Without treatment, hoarders tend to have a nearly 100 percent recidivism rate."

Many times people who hoard animals have psychological problems, Mr. Hutchison explained. "What many people fail to realize is that hoarders are nearly always sick, lonely people. They don't realize the extent of what they're doing to the animals or to themselves."

Unlike puppy mills, which are motivated by profit, hoarders tend to be people who collect all kinds of items, Mr. Hutchison explained. "Hoarders almost never hoard only animals. We often refer to them as collectors; they collect dogs and cats, but they also have a tendency to hold on to other things as well."

Mr. Hutchison offers these tips to recognize a hoarder:
  • Evidence outside a house, such as the accumulation of trash or other items. Items can be almost anything - cars, baby food jars, piles of wires, microwaves, televisions, cardboard boxes, newspapers, cigarette butts.
  • Avoidance of contact with people, although a hoarder may have a job or other interactive situations in their life.
  • Never allowing people into their home.
The normal cost to care for a shelter dog averages about $350, but the rehabilitation of the rescued dogs will be much higher, according to Mr. Hutchison. "For these 43 dogs, we think it will cost us between $30,000 and $40,000; it's more likely to end up being on the higher end of that range."

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Those who want to donate to help pay for the rehabilitation of the rescued dogs should visit the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society and click on donations.

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