Free at Last! ALDF Helps Shut Down Nightmare "Shelter"July 9th, 2008
The horror is finally over. Hundreds of dogs and cats, who for years
were hoarded, abused, and neglected, have not only been freed from the
filthy "shelter" that once held them, but the facility itself has been
shut down and will be demolished, thanks to a joint effort initiated by
the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA) and that eventually included two dozen other
After years of complaints about substandard conditions and appalling suffering, the All Creatures Great and Small "no kill" animal shelter in Hendersonville, N.C., was finally closed in February 2008. With 200 dogs and 50 cats to suddenly care for, an alliance of rescue groups pitched in to place the animals with private agencies and individuals. (At its peak, the facility was housing more than 600 animals, many stacked in filthy crates.)
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had worked for more than five years to bring All Creatures Great and Small into compliance with the state’s Animal Welfare Act. Unable to meet these requirements, the shelter signed two settlement agreements with city and state officials in October 2006, promising to close the facility by March 14, 2008. Although the settlement agreement was well-intentioned, the terms granting numerous concessions to All Creatures would later delay the state’s ability to take action upon finding repeated inspection violations.
Animal protection groups across the country knew about All Creatures Great and Small and were adamant that the infamous so-called "shelter" be shut down. While the state was trying to get All Creatures into compliance, PETA was working behind the scenes at the property, documenting what was clearly a hoarding case: animals came into the shelter but were not offered for adoption; indeed, conditions at the "no kill" facility were so bad some called it a "slow kill" shelter.
Early on, PETA contacted Hendersonville authorities with a list of animal welfare violations they witnessed while visiting the shelter--dogs and cats clearly suffering from upper respiratory and eye infections, dogs tethered to chain-link fences without access to shelter, malnourished animals, dogs confined to excrement-filled airline crates without food or water, and dogs with fly bites so severe that they were bloody and infected. PETA’s Daphna Nachminovich witnessed one of the shelter’s employees strike a dog in the head with an empty plastic bucket, then kick her hard. "I reported this incident to the shelter’s owner, Kim Kappler, who told me she would 'be right back' so I could show her the employee in question," says Daphna. "She vanished."
In 2006, PETA contacted Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel. A veteran of animal cruelty cases, Bruce had visited All Creatures Great and Small the year prior and is well aware of the thin line that sometimes separates a shelter and a hoarding situation. Joining Bruce were ALDF attorney Dana Campbell and Scott Heiser, director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, who all worked with PETA throughout the year putting a case together.
"Due to the very large number of animals at stake – more than 600 in the beginning – we decided that the best course of action was to go to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which has legal responsibility for enforcing the state’s Animal Welfare Act and more resources to pull together than any smaller jurisdiction," says Dana, who advised state officials on how the case could be handled and how the suffering animals could be helped. "They were very receptive to us, but they sat on it for a long time. The state had already entered into an agreement with the shelter, and they needed to jump through all the hoops previously set out in that agreement before acting."
While ALDF pushed for legal action, PETA had launched a seven-month investigation of All Creatures, documenting numerous incidents of cruelty, including dogs with serious untreated injuries; dogs panting in sweltering heat without access to water or shade; dogs crammed into stacked airline crates; cages with no bedding, food or water; and dogs fighting. The video footage depicts numerous violations of North Carolina’s animal protection laws, which prohibit "any act, omission or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering or death."
Though the investigator’s documentation was in the hands of authorities, things were not moving fast enough for ALDF and the other groups involved: while state bureaucrats argued about details, animals were suffering – and dying. Dana, Scott and Bruce were determined that something be done.
"By late summer of 2007, it was apparent to all that All Creatures Great and Small had no intent to comply with their earlier agreement with the state, so ALDF supplied the State Department of Agriculture with research memos and sample pleadings that they used as a model to finally file a civil complaint in state court to seize the animals and have the facility shut down," says Dana. This forced All Creatures’ board of directors to take action and finally begin talks with the state on what to do with the animals. All Creatures wanted to keep them and move them all to South Carolina, where it planned to set up new operations. The state wanted to shutter them for good.
Deciding to take action on the criminal front as well, in September 2007, Dana asked the local prosecutor, Henderson County District Attorney Jeff Hunt, to review the evidence against All Creatures Great and Small and file criminal charges against the people responsible for the suffering of animals imprisoned there. Hunt refused to even look at the evidence presented, and he returned it untouched.
Undaunted and wanting to keep the case moving forward, ALDF and PETA continued to pressure state officials to ask for a hearing date on their filed complaint. Things finally got moving when the state commissioner of agriculture appointed assistant state veterinarian Mary Ann McBride to the case in November 2007. Dana provided Dr. McBride with an in-depth legal analysis of the options and laws available, while Daphna and Dr. Kelli Ferris, an animal cruelty investigator and co-founder of the State Animal Response Team (which coordinates animal emergency planning and response at the local, state and national level), began to look for shelters that could take in All Creatures’ animals.
The work ultimately paid off on February 1, 2008, when the North Carolina Department of Agriculture officially took control of All Creatures Great and Small, pursuant to a final settlement agreement with the shelter prompted by the state’s complaint, and launched "Operation MoveOut" to transfer animals from the shelter to animal rescue organizations.
Faced with the logistics of relocating hundreds of sick, scared animals, those helping with Operation MoveOut understood this was a life-and-death situation. "We treated this like a disaster," says Bruce Wagman, "which is what it was." Though they estimated it would take a month to re-home all the animals and close the property, the preparation was worth it. "Within a week, it was all done," says Dana. The disaster was over.
"ALDF was a key component of Operation MoveOut," says Dr. McBride, who organized the effort with Dr. Ferris, "and I am thankful that Bruce and Dana were so willing to work with us on this."
In the end, those who worked so hard to close All Creatures and rescue the animals feel conflicted. "I’m glad the animals are out of there, but I am frustrated by how long it took," says Dana. "I am mourning those animals who didn’t get out in time."
Scott Heiser agrees. "The great tragedy of this case, beyond the profound and protracted suffering of hundreds of animals, is the amount of time it took for state and local officials to resolve this situation once and for all," he says. "By the time ALDF got this case, previous attempts to enforce North Carolina’s Animal Welfare Act, and the resulting settlement agreements, actually made it more difficult for the state to shut down this nightmare. I wonder what would have happened with this case had outside scrutiny from PETA and ALDF not been focused on the situation."
"The case against All Creatures Great and Small is just one example of ALDF’s nationwide attack on animal hoarding," says Bruce. "We continue to look at hoarding cases across the country, and in cases where a prosecutor does not pursue criminal charges, ALDF will file a civil case."
What You Can Do
Please urge Henderson County District Attorney Jeff Hunt to review the ample evidence against All Creatures carefully, take the lead in the case by directing follow-up investigative work as needed, and then file criminal charges against the operators responsible for the animal suffering at this so-called shelter. It is simply unacceptable for Mr. Hunt to refuse to address this case.
Henderson County District Attorney
200 N. Grove St., Suite 223
Hendersonville, NC 28792