The Wake County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals assisted in two animal hoarding cases last year that will be featured on episodes of the Animal Planet series "Confessions: Animal Hoarding."
The interventions took place in July and September and involved a Sampson County man with 35 dogs and a Forsyth County woman with 33 cats. The dog episode airs tonight, and the cat episode airs Feb. 10.
Wake SPCA Director Hope Hancock said her organization was contacted by the Animal Planet network to help remove animals and provide care and placement for them. But she said her job also included convincing the owners that their animals would be safe with her.
The SPCA estimates that there are 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding in the United States each year, with about a quarter of a million animals affected. SAFE Haven for Cats, a Raleigh group, rescued 17 cats from a hoarding and neglect case in Eastern North Carolina last week.
Melinda Toporoff, the executive producer of "Confessions: Animal Hoarding," said the show typically learns of the cases from a close family member of an animal hoarder. Producers follow up with the hoarder and family to see if they are willing to be on the show.
"We encourage them to watch the show before agreeing to be on it," Toporoff said. "They do not have to agree to give up any animals in advance, but they do have to agree to confront as a family the problems that the hoarding creates."
In the North Carolina cases featured this season, 62 animals were surrendered. They were taken in by the Wake SPCA, and as of today, only two of the dogs and two of the cats are still waiting for homes.
The dog hoarder
The case airing tonight involves "Stan," a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran and former minister who lives in Garland. The show doesn't use last names. Stan had 35 dogs - a mixture of pit bulls and hound dogs - living in neglectful conditions on his rented property. Stan was scavenging road kill and soliciting scraps from local restaurants to keep the dogs fed, but the dogs sometimes killed each other over the food.
Hancock, the Wake SPCA director, said that when she arrived at Stan's home, the production staff told her they didn't believe he would give up the dogs. But she appealed to him as a fellow animal lover.
"I told him, 'If you love them, let that love translate into sending them to us. I guarantee you we will take care of them,' " Hancock said. "I had to convince him that love is not enough. Trust us to take what you love."
Hancock said most of the dogs were friendly and that despite their living conditions, they were in surprisingly good physical shape.
At the end of the day, Hancock said Stan looked skyward and said, "A weight is off my shoulders." Stan was given two of his dogs back after they had been treated by veterinarians.
The cat hoarder
In the second case the Wake SPCA assisted in, "Angie," a bookkeeper in Kernersville, had 33 cats that she cared for at her home.
Hancock called the case unique because all of Angie's cats were spayed or neutered and received veterinary care.
"They were all happy, healthy cats," Hancock said. "Off the charts friendly."
Hancock thinks Angie was a responsible pet owner who couldn't say no and got in over her head. Persuading her to let go of the cats was not easy. "She cried the whole time," Hancock said, but Angie agreed to give up 29 of the cats, keeping a more manageable four.
Hancock promised Angie they would take care of the cats. Angie told her, "I trust you. Your name's Hope; I trust you."
Animal Planet always teams with a local no-kill rescue group to handle any animals turned over. The recidivism rate among hoarders is high, so the show also puts an emphasis on getting help for the humans involved.
"The subjects are offered 10 weeks of therapy with a local therapist, which we arrange for them," Toporoff said. "We had a full-time after-care coordinator who stayed in touch with them to see how they were doing."
The people receive no financial compensation for appearing on the show.