It was July 20, 2006, when I was introduced to the terrible fact that animals die in most of our nation’s animal shelters not because they are suffering or because we have too many of them, but due to complacency and because that’s what so many shelters have done for so long that we’ve all just gotten used to it. This unwelcome epiphany led me to become an animal welfare advocate and specifically a No Kill advocate. I firmly believe that all tax funded animal shelters in our country can, and should be, No Kill facilities where healthy and treatable pets are not destroyed for space or convenience. It is what the public wants and it is what we should expect from ourselves as a progressive society. I am quite outspoken on this issue; for me it is a matter of zero tolerance. You don’t objectify children, you don’t take advantage of the elderly, you don’t drink and drive and you don’t destroy healthy and treatable shelter animals and call it euthanasia. Because it is not.
My position has caused me to in a certain amount of conflict over the years. I have been repeatedly blamed for being the messenger as people focus on me, and people like me, rather than focus on the fact that the message is necessary in the first place. I’ve been accused of being naïve, uninformed and uneducated. I’ve been told I cannot possibly appreciate the challenges faced by those in the animal shelter industry and accused of having some hidden agenda against animal shelter directors and animal control personnel (even though I do volunteer work for shelters and animal control personnel). At one point, the No Kill advocacy group I lead became the subject of a hate page on Facebook. A parody of our logo was used as the identification image. Every post we made on our advocacy page was re-posted on the hate page with hostile and inflammatory comments. The kicker was what I call “the monkey butt video.” Someone took the time to download a television PSA I had created for our group, extract the audio track of my voice and add it to another video to make it sound like I was speaking from a monkey’s rectum. I can laugh at it now due to the juvenile nature of this stunt, but I admit it was upsetting at the time. I just couldn’t understand why it was more important for the person who made the video to spend time doing that instead of considering the No Kill programs we were advocating and which we continue to advocate to this day because they work to save the lives of animals. We ultimately determined a shelter employee had set up the page. Many of the supporters who posted comments were from the local rescue community. One was the shelter director herself.
I’ve also run across a host of people who are firmly against the concept of No Kill or who try to use the phrase No Kill in ways which are not consistent with the intended purpose. I’ve read positions by elected officials and self-proclaimed animal advocates to the effect that No Kill philosophies lead to institutionalized hoarding of animals, substandard veterinary care and the release of dangerous dogs out into communities where they pose a public safety risk. No, no and no. I’ve encountered people who are focused on statistics as an indicator of No Kill success, focusing on math as opposed to method, leading to situations where people either cook the books to make statistics look better than they actually are or situations where healthy and treatable animals are still destroyed. I’ve also seen people use the phrase No Kill to describe shelter operations which are anything but that and which actually involve criminal behavior. It is this last problem I write about today.
In February of 2015, I learned that Bobbie Taylor had sought and obtained the Lawrence County, Alabama, contract to run an animal shelter on her rural property in Moulton. The contract required Taylor to relocate the shelter operation from her rural home in Moulton to a more appropriate location within 6 months. Taylor told the media that she was working to secure two facilities to use and hoped to have the details worked out before the spring. She said that she planned to use $30,000 from the contract to continue paying the animal control officer and the rest would go for animal care, spaying and neutering animals and transporting animals outside of the county. Taylor boasted getting support from both Petco and Petsmart for her efforts and she claimed that she would operate the first county-run no-kill shelter in the state of Alabama. I groaned. I knew of Ms. Taylor by reputation and while I was sure that she meant well, I felt like she was tossing around the phrase No Kill without appreciating what it meant.
It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Some have said that for a period of approximately three and a half months in 2015, that road led directly to Ms. Taylor’s property in Moulton, Alabama.
Allegations of abuse and neglect at Taylor’s “shelter” first began to surface on social media about a month into the contract. There were multiple reports of Taylor’s property having far too many dogs for one person to care for, unsterilized dogs housed in pens together and some dogs seen trying desperately to avoid standing in their own excrement.
The situation came to a tipping point on June 24th when a local media outlet did a story which included undercover video made by a volunteer of Taylor striking a dog. The volunteer recounted instances of widespread abuse and neglect and provided images to the media which showed the conditions in which the animals were living. When Taylor refused to allow access to her property so law enforcement authorities could count the number of dogs and investigate the allegations of abuse, a search warrant was sought and obtained. Moulton Police Chief McWhorter was quoted as saying, “It's worse than we ever could have imagined it might be."
The search warrant began being executed on June 30th with the help of 28 officials from the American Society for the Prevent of Cruelty for Animals Disaster Response Team which is based in New York. More than 300 animals were seized. ASPCA responders found animals living in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Dead animals were discovered on a daily basis. Some animals were emaciated and many were suffering from medical issues including parvovirus, distemper and untreated wounds. Some of the animals were suffering from such severe medical issues that humane euthanasia was necessary to prevent further suffering. Those animals which could be saved were removed from Taylor’s property by the truckload and taken to another location for medical attention and daily care. A number of the animals were reunited with their original owners, some of whom said they had tried and failed to retrieve their animals from the Lawrence County Animal Shelter in the past.
Taylor was arrested on a total of 17 criminal charges stemming from her operation of the shelter at her home. Fifteen of those charges remained when she went to trial in February of 2018. Taylor was found guilty on six of the fifteen counts on February 23, 2018. She was sentenced on May 22, 2018 to 9 months in jail (suspended) and 24 months of probation. She must undergo mental health counseling and pay fines of just over $11,000. During the first three months of her probation, she is subject to random home visits and searches. She can only have the 10 pets she currently owns and cannot acquire more. She cannot possess or have additional animals in her custody as an operator, employee or volunteer at an animal shelter, animal rescue or similar facility.
We can all agree that what happened in Moulton in 2015 was tragic. We can all agree that those who suffered most from the events which took place on Taylor’s property were the animals entrusted to her care.
Some may argue that Taylor should somehow be excused from the end result. That she did her best with little money and little support. Others would argue that Taylor should somehow be excused from the end result due to her age. She was 81 when she got the contract and is now 84 years of age. Yet others would argue that the county is somehow culpable in the events that transpired on her property; as if they should have known what was happening.
Some may even argue that Taylor was trying to run a No Kill operation and did her very best to keep animals alive. Make no mistake, what was taking place on Taylor’s property was not No Kill. No kill is not just about keeping animals alive. When animals are collected on rural properties out of the knowledge and view of the public and law enforcement authorities, that is not No Kill. No kill does not mean slow kill.
In the end, the arguments in defense of Taylor are nothing but deflections from the reality of what transpired in our own local version of hell in 2015. Taylor sought the contract. She convinced the Lawrence County Commission that she was capable of managing an animal control officer and managing a shelter operation. She agreed to relocate the operation from her rural property within 6 months. We are told to not discriminate against people based on age and the commission did not. The county commission relied upon Taylor’s representations that she was qualified to manage the operation and many in rescue community stood in support of her abilities.
Good intentions do not excuse abuse. Good intentions do not excuse neglect. Had the conditions on Taylor’s property been found on the property of a private individual who did not hold the county contract, the charges would have been the same. Taylor does not get a pass because she held the county contract. The citizens of Lawrence County paid for what happened on Taylor’s property. The animals in most need of help and care paid with their lives and their suffering. And the citizens of Lawrence County paid with the lives of lost animals who were never seen again.
I am a No Kill advocate and I always will be. There is no going back. But I have and will continue to call out those who use the phrase No Kill and then engage in behavior I find unethical or criminal. I'm sad about what happened in Moulton. I'm glad it's over. And I hope that the sentence will keep it from happening again. Time will tell.
(images courtesy of the Moulton Advertiser, the ASPCA and Peace & Paws Dog Rescue)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson