Houston SPCA caring for dogs seized from filthy trailer

Owner says circling UFOs made the animals unhealthy

By ANITA HASSAN
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Dec. 13, 2008, 8:56PM

photo
James Nielsen Chronicle

Dr. Dev Rajan, of the Houston SPCA, holds one of the terriers seized from a trailer in Fayette County earlier this month.

Houston SPCA veterinarian Roberta Westbrook lifted a trembling toy English fox terrier into her arms Saturday afternoon to examine the dog’s emaciated body.

The spine and ribs of the malnourished terrier were visible. The dog’s nails were overgrown and her tiny paws were soiled from living in her own feces. The dog was among 42 terriers brought to the Houston SPCA Friday from the Gardenia E. Janssen Animal Shelter in Fayette County.

Authorities in Fayette County seized the dogs on Dec. 3, after they were found living in a 5-by-9 foot trailer — eating, sleeping and giving birth in their own waste — with a woman who claimed the terriers were unhealthy because UFOs were circling above her home, said Houston SPCA spokeswoman Meera Nandlal.

“We don’t know if she was breeding them or why she was living with them in such a small space, ” Nandlal said.

Authorities in Fayette County could not be reached for comment on Saturday. It is unknown at this time if any charges will be brought against the woman.

The animal shelter enlisted the Houston SPCA’s help to house and care for the 40 dogs, some of whom are as old as 10. The terrier Westbrook was examining gave birth to two female puppies since she was removed from the trailer.

Most of the dogs are in poor physical condition. Two of them are missing limbs for unknown reasons.

“They could be purebred, but not the best standard,” Westbrook said.

All the dogs will undergo medical and behavioral evaluations. After being cleaned and treated, healthy dogs will be put up for adoption, Westbrook said, adding that those who need more time to recover will be placed in foster care.

The Houston SPCA often sees many large animal seizures, Nandlal said. Recently, the organization took in 70 feral cats.

“Unfortunately, it’s not unusual, ” she said. “There are all kinds of animals that are put into situations they have no control of.”

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A dog in chains

The dog stood shivering with cold aching with loneliness staring pitifully as we drove by. His chain was a short and he had barely enough room to make it to his water bowl. I wondered , as I have so many times in the past, why anyone would bother to have an animal just to leave it neglected, alone and chained.  Was this poor animal supposed to be some sort of security?  He could not have been more than six months old at the most.

I fought with myself to go back, go back and rescue this miserable creature. But the law was stuck in my head and the thought of what would be like stealing, overcame my hearts desire.  I could not decide ethically’ which would be the greater ‘wrong’.

As many of you sit and read what I have written I am sure you feel like the decision would be easy for you, I know because I would be the same.

And yet I passed by, not once, not twice, but day after day.

I saw the animal suffer the cold and then the heat, some days no water was accessible for him to drink as the blazing heat beat down on him. His only shelter was the shade and branches of the tree that he was chained to.

I considered myself a great dog advocate and yet I did nothing. I felt felt guilty (horribly guilty) but my guilt did not save this puppy, or give him a nurturing safe home.

At that point in time I was unaware of the fact that I could report this neglect and abuse. I did not know that is was legally considered an actual act of abuse, although a very gray area.

Since that time ( this was many years ago) there has been a bill introduced, this year in fact in February to go into effect October 1st. The HB-1023-Restraint of dogs bill.

Unfortunately so it seems it was withdrawn a mere eight days later. But the attempt does show that this is a serious concern for many. There are other states that do have dog restraint laws and hopefully it will be re introduced at some point in the near future and passed in Florida.

I am writing this particular article because I know that many of you out there that are like me, or how I once was.

You may see an abusive situation but are unclear and unsure of what to do.

Call animal control, call the sheriff’s department, report what is going on. Animal neglect and or abuse is something that can be stopped. It is our responsibility as the race with consciousness to protect our animals, animals that trust us and look to us for their care.

Dog Laws-The Landlords and Dogs

Elderly or Disabled Tenants

The special place pets occupy in the lives of older people or people living with disabilities is well recognized. Finally, at least in some places, the law is taking that special bond into account.

Subsidized Housing

Older or disabled people, living in government-subsidized housing, being forced to give up pets that are their cherished companions – it doesn’t make for good press for the bureaucrats responsible. Pressure on those government officials has yielded results.

Tenants in “federally assisted” housing for the elderly or handicapped are allowed by law to own pets.4 This rule applies even if the federal government does not own the rental housing – it’s enough that a federal agency (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example) subsidizes it. Owners and managers may place reasonable regulations on pets, after consulting with tenants.5 Contact a local HUD office or your county Housing Authority to find out if a particular rental is covered.

Several states have also taken action. In California, residents of public housing developments (those owned and operated by a state, county, city or district agency) who are over the age of 60 or disabled may keep up to two small pets per apartment.6 Arizona, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire have similar rules, allowing tenants in state-owned housing developments for the elderly or disabled to have pets.7 (In Connecticut, a tenant may have a pet if the housing project allowed pets when the person applied for admission.)

The laws allow the public agencies to make reasonable regulations about pets. In Massachusetts, for example, policy guidelines issued by the state limit tenants to one pet; a dog must not weigh more than 40 pounds,and it must be spayed or neutered. The Arizona statute forbids requiring a tenant to pay a deposit of more than one month’s rent.

But regardless of standard lease terms, landlords who receive federal money must also make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled tenants, as long as the accommodations don’t impose undue hardship on the operation of the property.8 For example, a New Jersey court ruled that a man with paraplegia might be allowed to have a dog that was bigger than the 20-pound limit imposed by the standard lease. The man had trained the dog to retrieve objects for him, and two doctors stated that keeping the dog was important to his emotional well-being. The landlord could not automatically exclude the dog, the court said, without an inquiry into whether allowing the dog to stay was a reasonable accommodation for the disabled tenant.9

Similarly, a Massachusetts woman with a psychiatric disability was allowed to keep her cat, despite a no pets rule in her subsidized apartment complex. At her eviction trial, experts testified that she was emotionally attached to her pet and had “perhaps even psychological dependence” on it. A state appeals court ruled that accommodating the tenant was required under the law; the animal had caused no problems or complaints, and allowing her to keep it would not pose a hardship for the management of the apartments.10

If the management makes reasonable accommodations and the pet still creates problems, the tenant may be evicted. For example, a Connecticut housing complex for the elderly and disabled had trouble with a tenant whose dog frightened and bothered other residents. The dog’s owner, a chronic schizophrenic, did not walk his dog in the designated areas or clean up after it, and left it in his apartment for long periods of time. Despite the efforts of a social worker and the dog trainer whom she enlisted to help, problems persisted. A court reluctantly concluded that the management had made the reasonable accommodations required by law, and could proceed with an eviction.11

Private Housing

In most states, only government-subsidized housing is subject to special rules allowing pets. But in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and New Jersey, elderly or disabled tenants have rights to keep pets in either public or private housing. New Jersey, for example, guarantees the right of senior citizens in any “senior citizen housing project” to have pets. Any building with three or more units, intended for and solely occupied by persons 62 or older, is covered by the law. (Owner-occupied buildings with less than three units are exempted.)

Residents can have a dog, cat or any other animal that doesn’t constitute a health or safety hazard. A landlord who unreasonably refuses to renew a tenant’s lease because of a pet that is properly cared for and not a nuisance can be fined up to $500.12

WHY IT MATTERS

Many elderly people wouldn’t move to better housing if it meant giving up their pets, according to a new study. Researchers talked to 2,300 older people in Evanston, Illinois, nearly one-third of whom owned pets. Of the pet owners, 86% said pet ownership dictated where they lived.13

Federal law allows tenants in public housing to keep companion animals, subject to reasonable regulations established by the public housing agency.14 The agency can charge pet deposits or fees, and can, for example, restrict the size, weight, or number of pets. It can make other restrictions based on the particular property – for example, a high-rise building could reasonably have rules quite different from a smaller building with backyards.

Pet Seat Belt Law Passes Cali Assembly


Pet Seat Belt Law Passes Cali Assembly

Photo Illustration by Austin Vitt, Pet Pulse