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August 18, 2009

Dispatch from the front lines: Oahu hoarding case

From Scott Haisley, senior emergency services director, HSUS

'' 'Welcome to paradise' we heard the airline attendant announce as our 13-hour flight finally touched down on the island of Oahu. For most of the travelers on our packed flight this would be a dream vacation of surf and sand, but our team had come to the big island for a very different purpose. Just 15 hours before we had been given the go-ahead to embark on the largest animal rescue in Oahu’s recent history – saving more than 300 animals from a West Oahu hoarder.

As we filed out of the plane the incredible image of translucent aqua water was still seared on the back of my lids, but my mind had already begun to conjure up the images of intense suffering I knew we would be facing during our rescue. My first order of business was to gather the assessment team, animal handlers and sheltering specialist that we had flown in and discuss the plan of action. Specifically the difficult task of building an emergency shelter for several hundred animals from scratch on an island with few necessary resources.

Luckily I sent a stellar assessment team down the day before to secure materials necessary to build the shelter. Usually on the main land our Animal Rescue team can simply have all of our sheltering supplies delivered to the site easily and quickly. That was not the case in Honolulu. Our logistics coordinator for the mission called Home Depot and incredibly had every piece of kenneling equipment and fencing on the island transported to our emergency shelter within hours. We cleaned out the inventory of every pet store on the island and all three Home Depots and just barely had enough to build our shelter. In a matter of less than two days our shelter went from barren warehouse to the facility we would need to house the rescued animals.

Early Sunday morning our team pulled together and entered the property to begin a long day of animal rescue. We were able to come to the aid of these animals after the property owner’s wife passed away and he surrendered the over 100 dogs, approximately 100 cats and 200 ducks, chicken and geese on the property to the Oahu SPCA. The deceased owner had been a suspected animal hoarder for more than 15 years – taking in hundreds of animals and attempting to care for them with no assistance. Like all hoarding situations these animals were given the bare minimum of care while the owner was convinced she was saving them from a worse fate. The outcome was a life of misery and neglect for every living creature on the site.

The three-and-a-half acre property was strewn with mounds of garbage and dilapidated structures. The filthy conditions were made even more evident by the gorgeous, lush mountains that rose up on either side of the property. Our team freed the dogs first. The majority of the dogs were housed in dismal, cramped chain link and wooden kennels with stained concrete floors. Many dogs were suffering from untreated wounds, while the majority had skin or eye conditions and obvious parasite infestation.

The cats and fowl were in an equally dismal state. Ammonia levels in the cat houses were so high our team had to wear protective breathing masks while removing the scrawny, stressed-out felines. Luckily the fowl needed less daily care than the other animals, and thus fared somewhat better. We still found some ducks and geese with broken wings and the remains of several deceased fowl throughout the property.  While there were few critical cases on the scene it was obvious that if these animals fell ill they were not receiving even basic medical care needed to heal them. I hate to think of the untold numbers of animals who may have perished there over the past 15 years from easily treatable ailments.

There was one dog on the property who seemed to understand her rescue more than any other animal we removed that day. She was a shaggy brown Border collie mix who sat awaiting us in the middle of a long row of dirty kennels. She was housed with several other frantic dogs, but as I approached a look of knowing calm came over her little face. When I entered her cell and lifted her off the feces-laden floor she melted into my chest, and then made her way to my shoulder to hang on for dear life. As I looked her over I noticed her horribly overgrown nails nearly curled back into the flesh of her paws, yet she ignored any pain to shower me with affection. I have no doubt in my mind that she knew her days of hopeless suffering were over once and for all.

Once our team safely and humanely removed all of the animals from the property it was time to rush to the shelter to check on the progress of the rescued animals. HSUS staff and volunteers, UAN volunteers and local citizens banded together at the facility to see to the needs of these deprived animals. When I entered the shelter I made a bee-line for my little brown dog’s clean, new crate. 

I saw immediately that her joy at being rescued had only grown. She wiggled up into my arms when I sat down inside her crate. A shelter worker heard me call her sweetheart, and suggested we call her Ku’ Uipo, which means sweetheart in Polynesian. Upon hearing her new name Ku’ Uipo began to thump her tail frantically and whine with pleasure. It was as if she had been called that in a past life, possibly one where she was once someone’s family pet. There is no way of knowing little Ku’ Uipo’s past, or how she and the others ended up living a life of hell surrounded by paradise. But I know that these animals will never again be forced to live in cages and will now have a chance to find their own paradise. ''


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