Free at Last! ALDF Helps Shut Down Nightmare “Shelter”

Posted on July 9, 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
organizations.

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.

Pet Project

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.

Disaster Relief

"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."

Mixed Emotions

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.  

Jeff Hunt

Henderson County District Attorney

200 N. Grove St., Suite 223

Hendersonville, NC 28792

(828) 694-4200


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