Posted on

Animal hoarders do more harm than good

My Opinion
Alan Stewart, Staff Writer

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.
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.