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Issue of October 22, 2014
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Animal hoarders do more harm than good


My Opinion


November 20, 2013 | 09:56 AM

For each photograph the prosecution showed at the recent criminal trial of Samantha and Randell Lee, Samantha had an excuse: photos that showed what multiple people described as cat feces, she claimed was sludge from a flooded basement; a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, with stacks of additional dishes on either side, she said all came from the same basement during clean-up efforts; litter boxes practically running over with animal waste, she said she'd cleaned the day before; a floor that was covered with cat feces near a litter box, she claimed was never usually that way, even though the feces appeared to be caked in multiple layers; a bathroom shown as being full of trash, she claims was only full because more storage space was needed to clean the basement; a ceiling fan caked in an inch or two of dust, cat hair and spiderwebs was "too high to be cleaned" because the Lees are "short people"; photos of cats that had wounds from scratching themselves due to ear mites, she inferred had to have occurred after the more than 30 cats were seized from her home.

To her, denial was Samantha Lee's best defense, and she lost.

Question of the Week
Do you think nonprofit animal rescue groups should have tighter government regulation?
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The Lees operate — for the time being, anyway — the no-kill Frisky Felines Foundation, a 501(c)(3) corporation from inside their log home along Milltown-Frenchtown Road in northern Harrison County. The couple was found guilty two weeks ago of four counts of misdemeanor cruelty to an animal and one felony count of neglect of a dependent.

According to Samantha's own testimony, the idea for starting a rescue came from the Lees' children after one of them found a cat. A second cat was found near the Harrison County Public Library. One cat led to another and another and, before long, the Lees had dozens of cats roaming their home.

It's obvious Samantha Lee has a love for cats. She wholeheartedly believes what she is doing is best for the animals she keeps. But, she also has all of the typical signs of a hoarder, something she strongly denied while on the stand.

Tufts University's Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) believes hoarding is pathological and defines a hoarder as someone who accumulates a large number of animals (36 cats, three dogs and four chickens were seized from the Lees' residence), someone who fails to provide minimal nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care (most of the cats seized had low body weight, the floor of the home was littered with feces and some of the cats had medical issues), someone who fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals or environment (severely overcrowded and unsanitary conditions) and fails to act on or recognize the negative impact of the collection of animals on their own health and well-being.

HARC goes on to say that in 69 percent of cases of animal hoarding, animal feces and urine has accumulated in living areas. In addition to the feces on the floor, Harrison County Animal Control Officer Bruce LaHue testified that he put his knee on the Lees' bed to pull back a curtain and that the comforter was extremely moist of urine, so much so that it soaked into his pants. Multiple people testified to the smell of ammonia from cat urine inside the Lees' home.

As LaHue can attest, keeping a large number of animals is a lot of work. From feeding to cleaning to sanitizing to vetting to exercising, there's just no way a couple of people can do it, much less if the helpers are children as was in the Lees' case.

Sentencing for the Lees is early next month. An appropriate penalty would not be jail time or fines (though I certainly think restitution is in order after costing the county more than $30,000), but to limit the number of animals the Lees can keep. Maybe a cat or two as pets, have the animals spayed or neutered and be required to be under regular veterinary care and require visits to check on compliance. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to require counseling for Samantha Lee, who still sees nothing wrong with the way her house looked and the living conditions of her family and animals.

Any shelter, kill or no-kill, whether it is HCAC or Frisky Felines, owes it to the animals to provide adequate care, food and living conditions until they can be adopted or the time comes when they must be put down.

No one likes seeing an animal go unwanted, but no one likes to see animals living in the disgusting conditions they were in at the Lees' home either.

Twitter: @_alanstewart

  1. print email
    Seriously?
    November 22, 2013 | 12:05 AM

    Calling the sludge "feces" when you can't prove it is libel.

    You should ask her what the real story is.

    Thomas Kirby
  2. print email
    November 22, 2013 | 08:49 AM

    You need to learn the definition of libel, and read the sentence again.

  3. print email
    cowards
    November 22, 2013 | 09:50 AM

    Were the Lee's allowed to show any of their vet records? No. Were they allowed to show how one cat was murdered every time there was a trial hearing? No. Were they allowed to defend themselves at all? No. Did you see pictures of the whole house, or just close ups of dirt? Exactly what documentation were they allowed to enter as evidence on their behalf? None. Check any and all animal raid trials and you will find the exact same thing. There is a template and that template says that all rescuers and all sanctuaries are animal hoarders. No one is interested in justice here, and CERTAINLY no one is interested in the welfare of animals who were brutally chased thru their home and slammed into cages and boxes by their supposed rescuers and who had medication withheld by those supposed rescuers while in the custody of animal control who knew better. These animals have been in small, tiny cages for OVER A YEAR ... but, do go on and be ignorant and accuse someone of animal abuse, when you don't know a thing about the incident or its aftermath. Your brand of ignorance is what feeds this type of seizure of animals and the abuse they suffer afterwards at the hands of the people who claim they were being saved. Did anyone of you EVER both to go to animal control and make sure those seized animals were being treated properly? Why not? Your tax dollars paid for it? It is a public place? Why not go there and see for yourselves? Because you know the Lees are right ... You are all cowards.

    michelle adams
  4. print email
    hoarders
    November 22, 2013 | 03:23 PM

    I'm quite sure any evidence that the Lee's had would've been allowed at trial. Even if that is true, why not then start a Facebook page and post all those wonderful vet records? My guess is they don't exsist.

    Before you call me a coward, as a former ACO myself (and not in this county), and a Rescue Person, I've seen these exact circumstances. It is baffling to me Michelle Adams how you condemn the Animal Shelter, and the Reporter who wrote this opinion story, yet not one ounce of disrespect towards the Lee's whose home was filled with feces, and their own children were breathing in the fumes of amnonia.
    In these cases, most times the animals are not social with people and sadly yes, catching them can prove to be traumatic for both animal and shelter worker. Cats get sick in large numbers at an animal shelter, as well in a private residence with no proper ventilation. That is what happens. So it is OK if this happens at the Lee's home, but not at the Animal Shelter?

    For someone running a non profit 501c3, and having a "rescue" surely conditions should've been much better for these animals. Rescues should only take in what they can properly take care of.

    In this great country both sides are allowed to present their case and a jury of their peers is allowed to make a verdict in trial. That's how it works.

    Situations like this is what gives good rescues a black eye in the community. This hurts all of us good rescues when people do this.
    I think the ignorance lies with the Lee's for thinking this situation was OK not only for their children, but for their animals, and for you for somehow trying to justify this.
    If you look up cases on animal hoarding, "denial" or "deflection" is portrayed in each by the defendant. Irregardless how the animals were treated by the shelter, doesn't make what the Lee's did correct or humane either - that is based on your theory of how the animals were treated.

    I sincerely hope that Ms. Lee gets some counseling for this affliction of thinking when it comes to animals. My guess is they will move to another county or state and history will repeat itself once again.


    HorseRescuer
  5. print email
    November 22, 2013 | 09:51 PM

    If you really believe that both sides are allowed to present their case, you are dreaming. Furthermore, "irregardless" is NOT a word!

  6. print email
    Mr Kirby, we've heard over and over the excuses.
    November 26, 2013 | 11:23 PM

    I've had online conversations with Samantha over and over since the news broke about the animals being saved from that situation. So, yes, her side has been out there over and over. I concur with Mr. Stewart that it's been one excuse after another. Probably what disturbed me the most were the claims that the children's unfinished chores were such a strong contributing force in the animals being taken. With what the situation escalated too I personally feel this puts far too much responsiblity on the children and not the parents. If the parents are running an animal rescue they should be responsible for the care fo those animals. I pray for those children often that they are getting the counseling they will need to get past this.

    Any responsible rescue I know doesn't give animals to a home where the parents expect their children to learn responsiblity with the care of the animals or they often see the same animals returned when the children don't complete the chores the parent didn't want themselves. Common sense would say that two people running a rescue would adhere to the same school of thought in the care of the animals in their rescue.

    Connie
  7. print email
    The poll with this page.
    November 27, 2013 | 01:06 PM

    I believe there should be a mandatory license for NFP rescues. I think the application should be relatively inexpensive if not free as quality rescues are of assistance in a community and take quite a burden off animal control. But, they should be subject to inspection. From what I've learned the 501c3 is regulation of how the funds are utilized and allows for deductions to be written off for donations, but the rescues are not subject to any regulation on the treatment of the animals in their care.

    I also think animal control should have certain guidelines as well. Mind you, they are two different approaches and a shelter has to take in all brought to them, so standards are different. But, a rescue should have at least some measure of responsibility and subject to inspection by an independent source.

    JMHO and I'm sure others will have other opinions.

    Connie
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