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@NCCapitol

State failed for years to hold Hoke animal shelter to standards

Posted January 29

— The animal shelter near Raeford where more than 600 neglected animals were seized this week failed state inspections for more than a decade but was never shut down.

Hoke County deputies and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals raided The Haven – Friends For Life shelter on Wednesday following complaints of animal mistreatment. Owners Linden and Stephen Spear were charged with neglect and a drug charge related to an animal medication, and authorities said they expect more charges in the case.

Animal welfare inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have known about problems at The Haven since state standards for animal shelters were raised in 2005. The shelter's file holds stacks of failed inspections and complaints, including the latest denial of a registration application handed down on Tuesday.

That denial states that inspectors visited The Haven last May and again in September and found unsanitary conditions, a lack of veterinary care and other violations of North Carolina's Animal Welfare Act.

Brian Long, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said the agency was trying to help the Spears come into compliance, but officials never succeeded and never attempted to close The Haven down because of the scope of such a move.

"There was a lot of legal wrangling. There were a lot of promises made on their part. There were steps forward, but then there were always steps backward," Long said.

The Spears fought every step with every legal tool available, he said. Still, he acknowledged that the state should have acted sooner.

"It did go on too long, and it's been frustrating for us," he said. "What happened in that period of time that prevented us from getting to this point? That’s something we’re going to continue to ask ourselves."

ASPCA workers have been moving the animals from The Haven to a temporary shelter in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse near Raleigh, where they undergo a veterinary exam and are photographed, weighed and documented as pieces of evidence in the criminal case against the Spears.

"It's considerably better than where they were," said Ehren Melius, national director of sheltering operations for the ASPCA. "We are providing top-notch care for these animals, so much better than the horrendous conditions they were in before."

ASPCA officials have called the raid at The Haven the largest companion-animal raid they've conducted nationwide in the last 20 years. "Dozens of deceased animals" have been found buried throughout the 122-acre property, officials said.

"It's certainly one of the most difficult logistically and probably one of the most horrendous," Melius said.

The animals will remain at the shelter until the case is resolved, he said. By then, the ASPCA hopes all of the animals will be healthy enough to be placed in homes.

13 Comments

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  • Pei Nisiniu Jul 23, 1:08 p.m.
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    Me too, but I believe it is a matter of ignorance. They simply haven't considered that law enforcement generally does a GREAT job of enforcement when people are the victims. They haven't figured out yet, that animal abusers USUALLY get away with their crimes. They haven't reasoned out that it is the disparity in justice that is so alarming.

  • Pei Nisiniu Jul 23, 1:03 p.m.
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    I would sooner put an animal abuser in jail than a drug addict.

  • Susan Harward Feb 1, 2016
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    I am always perplexed by the people who don't think animals are "worthy" and bring up "if only people...humans". Why do you take the time to read the stories about "animals" and waste your time commenting? There are plenty of "human" stories to read and comment on. I happen to be one of those people that care about humans AND animals.

  • Victoria Clark Feb 1, 2016
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    Also people the government should not be spending our tax dollars and time on animal shelters.. This should be funded via donations.

  • Victoria Clark Feb 1, 2016
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    well you don't find many places keeping animals.. Either way it would be nice if more people spent this much time and effort on humans living in nursing homes and adult centers.

  • Chase Truman Feb 1, 2016
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    I personally think the state didn't do more sooner because they didn't want to take on so many animals. Didn't want to deal with the amount of time, space and resources this amount of animals would take. Not a good excuse by any means, but I still think that's part of it.

  • Susan Harward Feb 1, 2016
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    And what is NC doing to shut down puppy mills and backyard breeders? I think the Spears actually did care about these animals. Puppy mill breeders only see $$$$. They care nothing about the welfare of the dogs they breed over and over and over just so they can line their pockets.

  • Anne Havisham Feb 1, 2016
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    A very compassionate response, Ms. Cone. If indeed these were people who did not care at all, they would not have tried to keep them alive. It sounds to me as if they got to a point where the quantity of lives saved far outweighed quality of life that these poor beasties had.

    I am not defending indefensible treatment here; I think their intentions were far better than their ability to carry them out. These don't strike me as evil people, but as people without the time or other resources to do what they set out to do.

  • Janni Cone Feb 1, 2016
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    Correct - Melanie - smaller and smaller government means that there are simply no resources to deal with something of this magnitude. And we're going to allow puppy mills here - see where I am going with this? We simply don't have the resources to oversee these kinds of operations and because they are "infrequent", the budgets and resources get cut to average or below average - which means we will never be able to deal with this. And we don't seem to even have a plan.
    I DO feel that these folks were trying - they were trying to raise money to improve the conditions, that they genuinely cared for the animals - but they simply got in over their heads - slowly and consistently. They didn't turn any animal away and dealing with that sort of life and death decision does bad things to people who can't say no.
    Let's also put the blame where it belongs - people not spaying and neutering their pets, letting them run loose, dumping them outside their gates, etc. If THAT would stop....

  • Debbie Sawyer Jan 30, 2016
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    Hoke County and the state are going to back pedal on this. They were well aware of what was going on and they turned many blind eyes to it. That give them accountability in the abuse that went on - they are just as responsible as the individuals that ran it, And this is the government that we have allowed to flourish in our state.

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