Rescue operation: Good Shepherd works with NWA agencies to save 34 dogs
By Samantha Jones
In partnership with several other Northwest Arkansas animal welfare organizations, Good Shepherd Humane Society rescued 34 dogs from a hoarding situation on Friday, Sept. 4.
Cole Wakefield, director of animal services at GSHS, said he received a call on Monday, Aug. 31, from the Boone County prosecuting attorney’s office reporting that multiple dogs were found on a property near Omaha. Wakefield said officials arrested the man living on the property, and that’s when they found all the dogs.
“They had no idea the dogs were there, so when they went to arrest him, all of a sudden they had all these dogs in horrible shape,” Wakefield said. “They knew they couldn’t leave them out there and they’re not equipped to handle anything like that.”
That’s where animal welfare agencies like GSHS came in. Wakefield said he started calling agencies throughout the region seeking help, saying he and another GSHS employee visited the property on Wednesday, Sept. 2. What they found, Wakefield said, was painful to see.
“It was worse than they described. It was completely — I mean, it was awful,” Wakefield said. “We got there in our company van and almost didn’t get back out. The road to the site was a mile off the main road, which itself was a dirty road.”
He added, “We saw the dogs and they were in really bad shape. I’d say 11 of the animals were chained up. They didn’t have access to water or food.”
They dropped off 100 pounds of food for the dogs, Wakefield said, and made sure to leave plenty of water for the next couple of days. When they arrived back at GSHS, Wakefield said, he resumed calling everyone he could think of to help. Some of the agencies that agreed to help were Animal League of Washington County, Spay Arkansas and Wilson Zoo. On Friday, Wakefield said, the rescue mission was on.
“We went in and we got all the dogs, and it was a really nasty, dirty spot — ticks and chiggers and anything you can imagine. The site was pretty dangerous, strewn with trash and abandoned vehicles and burned-out trailers,” Wakefield said. “It was just an awful, awful location for either a human or animal to live in.”
When they started counting the dogs, Wakefield said, they were surprised to find that many of the dogs were friendly.
“In a lot of these situations, you’re expecting to run into unsocialized dogs that all run off or are a little bit nippy or scared,” Wakefield said. “The majority of these dogs came up to us, whether it was because they were starving or they had a lot of socialization. We were able to secure the majority of them pretty quickly just because they’d come up to say hi.”
Wakefield estimated that two-thirds of the dogs were secured in the first hour. For the last several hours, he said, the crew worked on getting all the dogs that were left. One of the saddest parts of the operation, Wakefield said, was a fire pit found on the property. He said the fire pit was surrounded by a “little bitty chicken wire fence where dog skulls had been cleaned and placed there.”
“It looked like that was where he burned the dogs that died. He had it set up as a shrine,” Wakefield said. “There were plastic flowers in there. That shows us that, at some point, this man cared for these animals.”
That’s common in situations of animal hoarding, Wakefield said. He said animal hoarding is no different from object hoarding in that the hoarder has a mental health issue that causes them to keep more than they can handle.
“Some people may hoard stacks of newspapers and that’s one thing, but when you’re hoarding live animals it’s creating harm for more than the hoarder, which makes it an urgent situation,” Wakefield said. “Based on the way this guy was living, I couldn’t tell if there was any electricity. There didn’t appear to be any running water. This was a person who obviously had several issues going on in his life and one of those led to hoarding.”
The shrine is proof that the man didn’t hoard animals out of malice, Wakefield said.
“I don’t think there was anything to suggest he was acting out of any motivation other than trying to fill whatever emotional compulsion he had, and that’s the difference between a hoarding case and a puppy mill case where people are intentionally collecting dogs because it’s cheaper and they can make more money,” Wakefield said. “I definitely have more empathy for a hoarder because of the underlying mental illness that’s there than I do for somebody that’s putting dogs in those same conditions as a profit motivation.”
Wakefield said GSHS is always happy to help with rescue operations, even if the operations fall outside of Carroll County. After all, Wakefield said, animal welfare issues are not confined to individuals cities or counties.
“Animal welfare is definitely a regional issue. Dogs and cats don’t respect our county lines. The Boone County strays don’t get to Alpena and turn around,” Wakefield said. “We definitely have our focus here and we’re here to serve Carroll County, but we’re not going to solve these problems if we just silo ourselves in the walls of this county. We have to build these alliances and work together.”
Wakefield thanked everyone who participated in the rescue and said GSHS is here to help pet owners who could find themselves in an unhealthy hoarding situation down the line. Wakefield said GSHS wants to work with these pet owners to ensure the pets are taken care of.
“We need to know the animals are there and have a plan if this person can’t take care of them anymore, or how we can help them if they’re overwhelmed,” Wakefield said. “We want to help people and prevent these situations from occurring. We want to work with them.”
He continued, “It’s not about taking dogs away. It’s not about judging. It’s about creating a situation where people can get the fulfillment they need from owning dogs without going overboard.”