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Once healthy again, 180 animals will need new homes
By BRETT CIHON
For months, animal welfare workers with the Kitsap Humane Society had worked with an Olalla couple, trying to improve living conditions for the 180 animals they owned.
But last week those animal welfare workers decided the situation was never going to improve.
“We’d been watching the property pretty close, trying to work with them,” said Jake Shapley, operations director and animal rescue chief at the Kitsap Humane Society. “In the end it was clear they couldn’t take care of the animals.”
By the time Shapley, a team of veterinarians and Kitsap County sheriff’s deputies went at the property in the 6900 block of SE 160th Street in Olalla to seize the animals Nov. 10, the situation was dire. The cats, dogs, llamas, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and other animals on the property were immersed in squalor.
The Humane Society had received repeated complaints from concerned neighbors.
The property was littered with debris. Animal cages were filthy and lacked clean water. The owners did not have enough food on hand to adequately feed the animals for even a day, and a cow had recently died from apparent starvation, Shapley said.
“Conditions were not anywhere close to adequate, so we had to take action,” he said.
The seizure of the 180 animals was the biggest operation the Humane Society had participated in since it seized more than 200 animals from a property about 10 years ago. And of the more than 50 animal cruelty allegations the Humane Society looks into each month, the size and scope of the Olalla incident was incomparable, Shapley said.
Still, when the Humane Society first contacted the property owners in April regarding animal cruelty allegations, they were given a chance. Most people aren’t deliberately trying to be cruel to animals, Shapley said. In fact, most individuals accused of animal cruelty believe they are helping, not hurting, the animals.
Education and proper training on how to care for animals is preferred over taking animals away from owners.
In cases of animal hoarding — which Shapley believes occurred in Olalla — education can be the only solution. Hoarders think they’re helping and protecting the animals, Shapley said, so if the Humane Society comes in and takes the animals away, a hoarder will try to find more.
“We need to change the mindset of the owner and get them to voluntarily give up some of the animals,” he said. “Or else the problem keeps coming back up.”
About 95 percent of the time, the Humane Society does not feel it’s necessary to seize animals from their owners, because often the owners will voluntarily improve conditions the animals are kept in, Shapley said.
And in the beginning, the Olalla couple took some steps to improve the conditions of the animals they owned. But over time it became clear the burden of adequately caring for 180 animals was too much.
The animals were seized, and Shapley said the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office could file charges against the Olalla residents, making sure they never own animals again.
Since last week, the Humane Society has worked hard to bring the animals back to health. Though none of the animals rescued had died in custody as of Tuesday afternoon, Shapley said it was too early to be assured they would all survive.
The conditions the animals were kept in may also lead to further medical complications in the future.
Shapley estimates the Humane Society will spend about $700 a week to feed the animals. Local animal help groups such as Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene have helped with food donations and animal care.
Once the animals get healthy, Shapley hopes the Humane Society can find homes for all of the 180 critters.
“We would love to see all the animals adopted long-term,” he said.