Rescued Animals Often Get Stuck in Legal Limbo

May 16, 2013

A sign at the SPCA for Monterey County notes that the animals inside are in protective custody.
Credit Krista Almanzan
A dog seized during the Monterey animal hoarding investigation.
Credit SPCA for Monterey County
Cats seized during the Monterey animal hoarding investigation.
Credit SPCA for Monterey County

Some of the 53 dogs and cats seized last month from an accused animal hoarder in Monterey are now up for adoption.  It’s unusual for these pets to be available so soon.  Accusations of abuse and neglect can often leave the animals stuck in a legal limbo for months.

Captain Stacie McGrady walks into a barn on the grounds of the SPCA for Monterey County.  Inside there are five stalls each with a sign noting the horses aren’t available for adoption. “All of the horses that are in here are protective custody,” said McGrady, Supervisor of Humane Investigations at the SPCA for Monterey County.  The unit takes the lead on many animal investigations and assists local law enforcement on others.  The five horses in this barn come from two different pending abuse and neglect cases.  As McGrady approaches one of the stalls, a mare walks up for a stroke on nose. “She was a seizure down in a San Ardo area in March.  The owner has not surrendered them yet, and the case has been sent to the District Attorney’s Office,” said McGrady.

She says when animals come here from a criminal investigation, they become evidence.  That means they’re held until the owner surrenders them, or the case makes its way through the courts.  Sometimes even when the court case is resolved, the animals remain at the SPCA.   Take a cat hoarding case from last July where humane investigators found 113 dead cats and 51 alive at a home in Seaside.  The owner has been convicted, isn’t allowed to own cats, but hasn’t released the animals.  So while the cats have lived at the SPCA for nearly a year, they can’t be adopted.  “This is really airing on the side of caution that that person may come in and say surrender those animals to another third party, and we could possibly be mandated to do that.  And we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.  So we’ve been working on getting a surrender order through the courts,” said McGrady.

That’s what makes this most recent animal hoarding case in Monterey unique.  Some of the 53 dogs and cats seized just a few weeks ago are already available for adoption.  The SPCA’s Beth Brookhouser opens the door into a room where several shih tzus, poodles, and mixes surround her panting and licking her feet, and showing no signs of their former living conditions.  “You can see quite a few had to get shaved down.  They were horribly matted, covered with urine and fecal stains,” said Brookhouser. 

During the owner’s arraignment on abuse and neglect charges, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office got the her to release the animals to the SPCA. Brookhouser says adopters just have to agree to let investigators see their pet, if needed.  “And adopters also need to understand that they may have some underlying medical issues that we haven’t yet caught because of what horrific conditions they underwent,” said Brookhouser.  Dennis Taylor is one of those adopters.  He and his wife Jean had been looking to adopt a dog.  Compelled by the news of the hoarding case, they expected to find an pet eager to be loved.  “It’s been that tenfold.  She’s Velcro.  She just loves being petted. She’s the kissiest dog I’ve ever had,” said Taylor

As she leaves the horse barn, Captain Stacie McGrady says she’d like to see all humane investigations animals find forever homes.   Long term care of the animals is costly, and the shelter isn’t a place to live indefinitely.  “Even though it’s beautiful and it’s the best that you could possibly imagine, it’s still not home, and we want all of our animals to be in homes,” said McGrady.  In the Monterey case, about 10 animals have been adopted.  Nine more are available, and the rest will be up for adoption once they get well enough and old enough to leave the SPCA.