By Janet McAfee

Hoarding is a horrible form of animal cruelty, affecting about 250,000 animals every year. These cases sometimes involve hundreds of animals, and when discovered, overburden our public shelters. Animal hoarding is characterized by an obsessive collecting of animals, and the inability to provide minimal levels of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care. Hoarders are in denial as to the lack of care for the animals. Animal hoarding is covered implicitly under every state animal cruelty statute, but cases are often difficult to prosecute. During July, two shocking hoarding cases surfaced in the Inland Empire.

On the July 4th holiday, over 50 dogs and cats were seized from a property in the high desert city of Phelan as part of an ongoing animal neglect investigation. They were surrendered to San Bernardino County Animal Care and Control and taken to their shelter at Devore, already crowded with animals fleeing the holiday fireworks. The vast majority of them were Shih Tzus, a highly prized small breed of dogs. I was shocked when I went to see the dogs. They looked like little alien creatures, their fur in dreadlocks full of feces, debris and food, almost unrecognizable as canines. Their horrific odor permeated the facility. It was heartbreaking to see how they struggled to move about with their “helmet like” matting.

Cutie Pie’s Grooming in Redlands came out to groom the Shih Tzus at no charge, possibly the first time the dogs were bathed and groomed. Pam Morrisey, owner of Cutie Pie’s, recalls, “The first thing I wanted to do was just cry. It looked like fecal dreadlocks hanging down from their faces.”

Doug Smith, Supervising Animal Control Officer at the Devore shelter, describes the dogs, “They went through an amazing transformation once they were groomed. Initially they barely moved. The dogs didn’t seem to like water, but after they were groomed they became engaged with each other and wanted to interact with people.” The shelter staff worked diligently to promote their adoption.

Dramatic stories grab the attention of the media and the public. The holiday seizure story went viral on Facebook generating over 30,000 contacts. Media outlets covering this story included KCBC, KTLA, KABC, the Associated Press, the LA Times and the San Bernardino Sun. Adopters and private rescue groups responded to the call, and in a happy update all the dogs went to new homes or rescue partners.

Loving All Animals in Palm Desert rescued one of the Shih Tzu’s, a 3-yr-old pup we named Piper (pictured here). Dogs usually trust quickly, and have a remarkable resilience to overcome the worst of backgrounds. Piper proved that theory true, a bit timid at first, but soon transforming into a loving and happy creature. Her foster mom describes Piper, “I expected a dog from a hoarding situation to be shy, frightened and uncomfortable around humans. But when I first picked her up she was ready to be hugged and caressed.” Piper wants lots of human touch, perhaps making up for the unbearable years when she didn’t receive this.

More recently, 61 Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) were discovered during a home fire near Riverside. The residents relinquished custody of the dogs to Riverside County Department of Animal Services. Pictured here, most of the dogs are in good health, though some are a bit fearful. Many of these beautiful Shelties are now available for adoption at the shelter located at 6851 Van Buren in Riverside. You can view them on their website at or call (951) 358-7295.

It is estimated that 30% of shelter animals are pure breeds, and shelters often have Shih Tzus, Poodles and other popular breeds. There may not be television cameras to record their plight, but they each have a story to tell and love to give. The San Bernardino county shelter at Devore is about one hour from Palm Springs, at 19777 Shelter Way, San Bernardino, call (909) 386-9820, or check their website at Our local Riverside county shelter, the Coachella Valley Animal Campus, is located at 72-050 Pet Land Place, in Thousand Palms. Call (760) 343-3644 or view their animals at

Please contact your local animal control office if you suspect animal abuse or hoarding. When you are looking for a new special friend, head out to the nearest shelter for a pet that is wise, loving, and “furever” grateful.