It is with shock, sadness and disbelief that many of us in the dog show world became aware of the recent tragedy involving a well-known breeder and owner-handler whose dogs were neglected to such a degree that two died and a large number were half-starved and filthy.
It is horrifying enough to hear news reports of neglect involving unknown people and their pets. Because we don’t know these people we can distance ourselves from the situation, assume that the person responsible was mentally unhinged, and that anyone who knew him or her must have been aware of what was happening.
However, the present case involves someone whom many of us had known for years as a likeable, bubbly and positive character who genuinely loved her dogs, one we saw regularly at the shows and who to all intents and purposes was “one of us.” How could this happen to her? How do we know it won’t happen to others in our midst?
The events are so recent that it has not been possible to establish all details with certainty, but there’s no doubt about the major sequence of what happened. On the morning of June 23, the handler in charge of this breeder’s top special — after communicating with the breeder’s husband — knocked on her door and, when eventually succeeding in getting into the house, was “overcome by the awful sight and smell” she encountered. She found not only a person in distress but also one dead dog, one dying and 13 others in various states of neglect, half-starved and filthy. The handler managed to remove some of the dogs but needed assistance to get the rest out.
It was known that this breeder had been living alone for a few months while her husband — who returned to the scene immediately when summoned — had been working in a different state. What was not known was the horrific state of the dogs, since amazingly their owner had continued to communicate as usual with a large number of friends and associates in the dog world. I hadn’t seen her since Westminster, but many others report talking on the telephone or emailing on a regular basis, some as recently as a few days earlier. Although she had some health concerns and may have been lonely and depressed about her husband’s unavoidable absence, nobody apparently suspected that anything was seriously wrong with the dogs — and, crucially, she did not ask for help.
The surviving dogs are being fed, treated as necessary by a veterinarian, and receive emergency grooming (shaving) in sessions that have required several hours per dog. The handler has been contacted by Animal Control demanding the dogs so they can make a case against the breeder.
The point here is not the outrage, sadness or justifiable anger that anyone who cares about animals must feel toward a person who can neglect the dogs in her care to such a degree. Rather, the real concern is how to make sure this doesn’t happen again — not to anyone, or at the very least not to anyone we know. Remember, this is a person whom nobody would have suspected could descend to such a level of incompetence and neglect. Many will try to demonize her, make out that this was something that was bound to happen… but that just won’t wash, since in that case why didn’t they warn anyone?
The moral is that, to put it bluntly, we don’t know how anyone, however “normal” they may seem, will react when circumstances turn against them: when their health fails, the partner disappears (temporarily or for good), the number of dogs grows… and what used to be acceptable conditions descend into what can only be described as hell. Obviously it’s possible for an otherwise functional person to develop a mental block of such outsize proportions that their dogs will suffer, even die, before they ask for help.
I suspect that most of us know someone who is only a step or two away from potential disaster. If so, it’s our responsibility to check up on them and their dogs. They may be alone with a lot of dogs, they may keep up appearances in public… but what’s the situation really like at home? How one makes sure that they, and their dogs, are OK, and reconciles that with a very natural need for privacy, is the big question.
But we don’t ever want to encounter anything like this again, especially not involving “one of us.”