Seattle Pet Laws Examiner
More than two years ago, Animal Control officers for Nye County (NV) took control of a "shelter" located in the town of Pahrump. Given the appalling conditions of the facility and the state of care of the cats, some have described this facility as an "Auschwitz for cats."
The "facility" was owned and operated by "For the Love of Cats and Kittens", and was known simply as FLOCK, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
The "facility" consisted of a large sandy lot surrounded by a tall fence with a few small buildings inside. According to rescuers, cats were everywhere. Since FLOCK had failed to provide the cats with almost any type of protection from Nevada's brutal summer temperatures and bitter cold winters. For example, most cats had no indoor access or any way to get away from strong desert winds, rainstorms or snow. As a consequence, rescuers found some cats crowded under the few bushes on the lot or into the few buildings to avoid the 110 degree plus temperatures.
Animal Control officers and rescuers found dead cats; cats dying from starvation and dehydration. It was impossible to walk without stepping on feces or vomit. Because the cats were not separated, there was no way to control the spread of disease or prevent territorial disputes. As results, rescuers also found ill and seriously injured cats with open wounds (some even had eyes hanging out of their sockets or completely missing). All the cats were covered with flies and maggots. Needless to say, many, if not most, were very frightened and alone. After months of care from Best Friends, most of the surviving cats have been adopted. The rest remain in Best Friends' sanctuary.
Employees and volunteers for Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah-based shelter, who were called to care for the cats, named the facility "The Dump".
After Animal Control convinced the owners of FLOCK to surrender ownership and custody of the facility, more than 700 cats had to be placed under the custody of the county. These, in turn, were placed in the care of Best Friends. The owners also agreed to lease the facility to the county so it could be cleaned up. Cats would also be cared for on-site until they were in better condition and could be placed for adoption.
Nye County then filed charges of animal neglect against FLOCK for failure to provide food, water and veterinary care. These are misdemeanor crimes each punishable by a minimum jail term of 2 days to a maximum of 6 months, as well as 48 to 120 hours of community service, and fines from $200 to $1,000.
In its defense, FLOCK claimed that most of the cats were feral and had been brought to the facility after being trapped in Las Vegas. Of course, that didn't explain the state of the facility and the neglect and abuse imposed upon the cats. In any event, it turns out that some of the cats had been someone's animal companion since they had micro-chips. Apparently, FLOCK had made no effort to identify the owners of the micro-chipped cats.
At the time of these events, Maggie Ward was president of Flock, a position she had acquired in May, 2007. The prior president, Sherri Allen, maintains the place was in great condition when she left in May and only deteriorated after she left. However, when sheriff's deputies went to Allen's house to interview her about the situation at FLOCK, they found 125 cats living in filth, sick and starving. One investigator described there was feces on every surface in Allen's house. The sheriff's department seized these cats as well and placed them under the care of the county's Animal Control. The county initiated a forfeiture hearing to obtain ownership of the cats and the judge ordered the cats surrendered to the county. The District Attorney then filed a complaint charging Sheri Allen with 13 counts of animal cruelty. Allen eventually pleaded guilty to one count. She was not, however, ordered to stay away from animals, nor was she ordered to pay for any of the cost of the veterinary and other care of the animals after they were forfeited. Needless to say, she also did not volunteer to do so.
One animal behavior consultant who was first on the scene and cared for the cats for months afterward stated that:
"I [first] entered FLOCK [in July, 2007] through an unfinished building that contained 17 cats. Those cats are living inside. All are underweight, show signs of starvation and malnutrition, and most have signs of illness, particularly upper respiratory infections, skin conditions, wounds, and diarrhea. The litter boxes were all soaked with urine and filled with diarrhea. At least one male cat is intact. [T]he back yard [hosts] the largest [cat colony] I have ever seen. Hundreds of cats live together. I quickly realized that the ground is covered in feces. Some had been raked into piles but not removed. Hundreds of pounds of feces remained on the ground in this yard. The cats I saw were all underweight. There were flies everywhere. The flies in the yard were swarming on the cats' runny eyes, noses, wounds and the visible diarrhea There were also maggots everywhere including in the cats' runny eyes, noses, wounds and visible diarrhea. ...I looked into the small shed like buildings that are in the back yard. ...The sheds or buildings are filled with flies, feces and vomit. The cats in most of these buildings were inside by choice because evaporative coolers were running inside, but I understand they were not turned on this summer until very recently. The temperature during my visit was around 114 degrees F[ahrenheit] each day. There are 2 cat doors to the buildings. I watched as cats lay in the cat doors, blocking entry access to other cats. Most of the cats are in the yard and are desperate for shade. There is just no adequate shelter for them. ... There is one building labeled Hospital. I entered to see almost 20 cats running free in the building. There are cats in cages as well. There were filthy litter boxes soaked with urine, diarrhea, flies, and vomit. I asked about medical care and I was told most of these cats had not seen a veterinarian. Untrained volunteers and staff including a 16 year old girl were prescribing, administering and changing medications. Staff and volunteers spoke of disagreeing about vet care and hiding from each other what they do medically. ... Cats died while I was there. ... Many of the cats in the yard look as ill as the cats in the hospital building. Approximately 85% of the cats are showing signs of sickness, and almost every cat is underweight and shows signs of starvation and malnutrition. I saw chronic upper respiratory, drooling, skin conditions, and various wounds which were covered in flies and maggots. One cat had his right eye hanging out of the socket. None of these medical issues had been diagnosed let alone treated. I saw no measures to control diseases. There is no proof of vaccines on this cat colony. When I asked about records for the cats, I received multiple answers ranging from every cat had a record but they were stolen to we never really had a database. While I was there, I saw mounds of feces and vomit everywhere. There did not appear to be routine cleaning or sanitation at all inside any of the buildings or outside in the yard. ... I understand about 100 cats froze to death last winter, and the shelter during this summer of 100 degree plus temperatures is very inadequate or nonexistent for many of the cats. ... The Board members whom I met with showed no concern about these horrific conditions. This leads me to believe this situation is not new nor is it worse than things that have happened in their past. "
Another rescuer stated:
"It was extremely hot [when I was there]. As I walked around the place FLOCK called a "sanctuary" for the first time, I heard the cats trying to breathe. They were all trying to grab every inch of shade they could find, and I could hear the panting, the trouble they had breathing. Every cat was panting and their body temperatures were in the danger zones. .... All of the cats I saw then had upper respiratory infections with gunky eyes and noses. There would be maggots in their eyes and noses and flies swarming. .... The smell was just unbelievably bad. There were feces everywhere. You could not find a place to step without stepping on cat feces. The buildings were also full of cat feces. The buildings were filthy. Obviously, cleaning was not part of FLOCK's agenda. The buildings are made of plywood that can't really be cleaned. The wood is covered with cat mucus, feces. We have tried to power wash it, and the boards come apart. We have used putty knives. We can't get the building walls clean. They are contaminated..... Also, there were flies everywhere. You could not open your mouth inside the buildings or flies would swarm in. The flies also covered the cats. The sicker cats couldn't shake off the flies and so they would be covered in them and maggots too. ... I was really blown away by the extreme emaciation and dehydration of so many of the cats. You could put your fingers around the cat and feel the other side. You could put one side of the cat's body against the other side, that's how extremely emaciated they were. .... The cats' noses were so clogged and crusted, they probably couldn't smell to find whatever food there was. Also, the cats would just get into these crazy sneezing frenzies to the point they would get bloody noses. .... It was clear there was no control of disease there. The first time we did intake, we used a building called Cozy. There were 27 cats in there. We found all were positive for diseases like FIV or Feline Leukemia. There had been no effort to separate cats with contagious diseases, and these diseases just spread through the colony. Also, Feline leukemia spread through cat feces. It is easy to prevent yet it is obvious it was allowed to spread through this colony. Feline Leukemia leaves them with weak immune systems. There was also tapeworm, ring worm among the cats. ... I saw blood and mucus in the food bowls. The cats would go into sneezing frenzies and leave mucus and blood and other cats would then eat out of the bowls. These cats were all housed together in one yard with just a few flimsy buildings. There was no socialization, and cats can't live basically alone together like this in one area. Also, there was not nearly enough housing or room. Only about 10-15 cats could live in one of those buildings. ... The cats all have ear mites as well as upper respiratory infections. I have seen many sunburned on their coats and ears. The cats were not receiving just basic veterinary care. There was only one small building used for a hospital. As an example, there was a cat there we called Tom Thumb. He had a hole in his neck that he kept trying to scratch. It turned out he had ear mites which made him want to scratch the hole in his neck. When treated for the mites, he stopped scratching and the hole healed. He suffered for a long time because basic care was lacking. The suffering I saw there just blew me away. I couldn't believe it. And I was there after Katrina when cats were pulled out of flooded homes and streets after starving for weeks. This was worse, much worse."
The case was to go to trial on February 11th. Instead, Judge Kent Jasperson dismissed the case before it could even begin. Refusing a request from the prosecutors to continue the case, Judge Jasperson ruled that FLOCK itself could not be named as a defendant and pointing out the individual directors and officers had only been named and served the day before.
According to the prosecutor, an appeal will be filed.
As of today, FLOCK's website can still be found on the web and still requests donations.
For more info: FLOCK: www.flocknevada.org/index.html; Best Friends: www.bestfriends.org/; Animal Law Coalition: www.animallawcoalition.com/; EcoStar Law, PLLC: www.ecostarlaw.com.