Just a few days ago, in Lincoln County, Montana, law enforcement officials and HSUS Animal Rescue Team members discovered dozens of animals in dire need. By the end of the day, these rescuers had saved 53 dogs—mostly poodles bred for sale through a personal website and Facebook presence. Some of the dogs were heavily matted, and when rescuers felt beneath their fur they realized the animals were also dangerously underweight. The dogs, ranging in age from several months old to adults, were also suffering from untreated eye, ear, and dental infections.
Lincoln County Animal Care and Control authorities had tried to work with the owner to address conditions at the property over the previous several months. Ultimately, however, they decided to remove the dogs to safety, along with six thin and underweight donkeys. The county will care for the animals until the final disposition of the case.
The HSUS provided some financial assistance for the care of the animals, and PetSmart Charities™ also provided food, supplies, and financial support.
Our founders envisioned The HSUS stepping in to support local humane societies and law enforcement authorities wherever and whenever our organization was in a position to offer services and resources not available to them, or when the situation in play overtaxed their capacity. We’ve been at this for a while, and every time we become involved in such an effort I marvel at the length and substance of our reach as an animal rescue entity.
The outcome at Lincoln County is 100 percent great for the animals involved, but cases like this are indicators of a larger problem. As Wendy Hergenraeder, our Montana state director, observed, “the conditions we witnessed are typical for commercial dog breeding facilities in Montana, since the state does not have any laws to regulate puppy mills.” Montana is among just 16 states without specific regulations for puppy mills, such as a requirement to provide basic care. We cannot rescue our way out of this problem, and when it comes to puppy mill operators, the law must speak and forbid them from treating dogs in terrible ways.
There’s not just a moral argument, but an economic one, too. Large-scale cases like this one can be an enormous financial burden on communities like Lincoln County. Unlike a majority of states in the country, Montana also lacks effective laws to provide for the costs of caring for animals seized in a cruelty case. So that cost burden, day in and day out, typically falls on the taxpayers, the goodwill of the community, or upon animal welfare groups that had been warning about these problems and had no part in contributing to the mess.
The HSUS has worked with many states to pass laws to put that financial burden on the suspected perpetrators of animal cruelty or suffering. This makes it easier for local law enforcement officials to take action on such cases and results in more animals being saved from neglect and cruelty.
There is work here for Montana’s legislature, which should take steps to address cost of care issues, as well as to redress the lack of puppy mill regulations that allowed the situation in Lincoln County to get so bad, and continues to place other animals in the state at risk every day.