Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Rescuing the Rescuer: The Challenging World of Rescue Hoarders. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What social media tactics should the agency have been doing during that final investigation, the case study that you were just talking about. What are your recommendations> What should the timing look like?
Adam Leath: I would highly recommend that you involve a public information officer in the course of your investigation. They can help you navigate some of those challenges to the media channels. There’s a variety of outlets that are out there, and quite frankly, your agency is the one who is responding to the case, you should be more focused on how to provide conflict resolution, than always necessarily have to be doing the media side. But in our case, what I think should have happened, and what I think would have been a better tactic, would have been to proactively put out a press release, the moment that the warrant is executed at the property. Much like many law enforcement agencies do anyways, anytime that there’s any type of noteworthy bust or warrant that’s executed, putting out a proactive press release. And then, you may not be able to answer all of the questions, because it’s still an active investigation. But the search warrant becomes a public record. So, anyone who wants to learn about what happened or the probable cause, they are able to acquire that, the minute that the warrant is executed. So, I would have asked for a proactive press release, sharing that with social media channels, and then responding to questions as they arise.
Audience Question: If we don’t have a public information officer, should we try to work with maybe somebody from the county government like law enforcement who does have a PIO? Or what should we do?
Adam Leath: So even if you don’t have one within your agency, it’s likely that your county or your city has a PIO that’s identified. Certainly, your law enforcement agencies do, I would always encourage working with your law enforcement partners because each of them does have a PIO on staff. So, it’s just, it’s likely that you could piggyback and reach out and get resources, even there locally to help. And you might even do it jointly because most animal agencies, not all are sworn. So, if you’re not sworn, you’re going to be relying upon your sworn law enforcement partners anyways. And in our case, the sheriff’s office was there to execute the warrant, so both our agencies were involved, therefore, we used their PIO and our PIO to respond.
Audience Question: If we don’t have contacts, there are far local law enforcement agency is as unfortunate as we are and we’re working with somebody like ASPCA to help us with these major animal situations. Does ASPCA have resources?
Adam Leath: I would always encourage you to reach out to what is called the National Response Team at the ASPCA. They are a great avenue and would be able to make some recommendations on how to navigate some of those challenging issues. But certainly, I can’t underscore if you don’t have local contacts, you really have to start there first. We’re talking about non-governmental organizations that are not always —— as they want to be so they may not always be available to help you in the time frame that you need. So, developing those contexts at a local level first is always the best practice.
Audience Question: Have you experienced hoarders trying to use animal rescue labels as a cover? And, if so, do you see a certain percentage of those? That’s a particular problem for one of our audience members in Colorado.
Adam Leath: Sure, and we are seeing that here as well. There are unfortunately far too many sanctuaries and rescues that give the industry a bad name because they are by and large not the majority. But when they do happen, they perpetuate some pretty serious cruelty. So yes. If there are individuals who are trying to hide behind a 501 C3 status, which many of them will tell that to the public or even to agencies as though that is some sort of credentialed way in which they were vetted or inspected. Truly folks, any one of us could be a 501 C3 if we just fill out a piece of paper and send it to the IRS. That’s it, so there is no appropriate credentialing by just obtaining a 501 C3. So yes, I do believe that a lot of the individuals involved in rescue hoarding may also be utilizing it as a way to cover and in some ways, even legitimize, and potentially fundraise off of well-intentioned members of the public that may not know otherwise.
Audience Question: When determining if hoarding is a problem, how many are “too many” animals? And here’s the example the audience member is using. “Typically, in Portugal,” he says, “we have a limit of three dogs in a house and up to two cats in a house.” Do we have similar laws here in the US?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question. And outside of Illinois and Hawaii, there isn’t a state-level law that addresses animal hoardings specifically. I would say, though, that all states have animal cruelty laws. And animal hoarding is animal cruelty. It is neglect and should be prosecuted in those limited circumstances that we talked about, but in all instances, there are local jurisdictions that have imposed some limits on the number of animals. That is very fact-specific and different for each jurisdiction. So, do I think that there’s a magic number? No. Because I think the minute that an individual and organization or rescue brings in one more animal than they can provide reasonable care for. So, they have exceeded their capacity to provide care, a small number or it could be a double-digit number or that could be a triple-digit number. It really boils down to the individual condition of the animals and if they’ve accepted one more animal than they can provide care for, that’s where we’re dealing with the issue of animal boarding.
Audience Question: Cody was saying that they are seeing an increase in “crazy cat men”. Is hoarding especially oriented towards women? Or are we starting to see more men as animal hoarders?
Adam Leath: Well, I can tell you that in animal hoarding, it does transcend every socioeconomic background. Both men and women, both married and unmarried. I will say that in the studies that we’ve talked about in today’s talk, the vast majority of those studies are represented as women, so two-thirds, and a majority are also unmarried. But that doesn’t mean… I’ve had both men and women, many different socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and job types. There is no one size fits all, but we find that there are some of them that we see more often than others.
Audience Question: Do you have a specific tracking system to track how many hoarding cases you have? What type of hoarding case it was? The cost spent with it to intervene in a case?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question, and we don’t label our cases as hoarding cases for the reasons we talked about during today’s talk. Again, that’s a diagnosed mental health condition, so we refer to them as general welfare complaints. And so, we do keep track, we use the Chameleon database that I’m sure many of you have heard of. We do call types and we do track which ones of those results in a criminal case where charges are filed or which ones of those are in fact unfounded. We also do keep track of individuals who are convicted throughout our county on a 10-year waiting, we actually have a list that we keep track of in case anyone’s coming into our office for acquiring additional animals for adoption or those types of things. But in terms of keeping track of how many of them and what type, in order to distinguish between the types, it might not seem like it’s difficult. But sometimes it can because that one can get a little blurry. Some rescue hoarders actually could be moving in and more of an exploiter hoarder versus an overwhelmed caregiver can suddenly become a 501 C3 rescue and now are doing it in a different manner. So, it’s a very fluid label, if you will.
Audience Question: Do you typically take the hoarder through the criminal justice system? And then to follow up on that, have you found that juries are particularly sympathetic to hoarders?
Adam Leath: Yes. Juries are often sympathetic because the individuals, most of the time, do not immediately represent as a direct threat to animals. Many times, they are looked at, as the community, within the community of the people who just care a lot about animals a lot. And they just got in over their head. And some of that may be true, and some of that may actually be making an excuse for criminal behavior. So, it’s really important that you kind of make those distinctions. Look to see who’s involved, and really do your homework on who you’re dealing with.
Audience Question: What are some good examples of follow-up after a seizure to prevent that person from getting more animals?
Adam Leath: So, a best practice is a no-contact order. So, in cases where we do prosecute for animal cruelty and animal hoarding cases. We always ask for a no-contact order with animals. And depending upon whether that is a felony or a misdemeanor. Those carry maximum sentences here in the state of Florida. For instance, if it’s a felony the maximum is five years. So, I could potentially get up to a five-year condition of no-contact order with animals if we want to let them plead directly to probation. So, in that instance, we aren’t necessarily the ones who are always following up to see if they have additional animals, that’s the Department of Probation. They have to regularly report to probation, and if they’ve gotten the animals, the probation officer is going to know, and that’s a violation of their probation. So, now they have to go back and serve the remainder of their sentence: incarcerated. So, it is a bit of a carrot or the stick if they do what they said they were going to, then they don’t have a problem. If they don’t, then they’re going to have to go back and serve the remainder of their time, but either way, you’re limiting their access to animals.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Rescuing the Rescuer: The Challenging World of Rescue Hoarders.