A Tale of Two Survivors
All of us in the animal field who daily deal with the pain and sadness of unwanted animals and the cruelties they often endure, need a story with a good ending to keep us going. This is such a story.
November, 1987, Ellenville, Ulster Co., NY. It was the worst animal cruelty case in the country. Close to a thousand animals were found in deplorable conditions at the “Animals Farm Home.” The word “home” was a misnomer — it was a hell-hole where for years the only way out for the unfortunate animals imprisoned there was a protracted and agonizing death.
On the day of the rescue, the Sheriff´s department, NYSHA, the Ulster Co. SPCA, veterinarians, and volunteers, entered the barns to rescue the animals locked within. It was a sight that none of us will forget: barns that were dark, wet, and crammed with animals, cobwebs hanging in the putrid air, moldy bread — the only food available — pressed into the thick layer of feces and urine on the floors, the din of hundreds of dogs barking, the overpowering stench of urine, feces, and death, starving animals, dogs incessantly scratching in a fruitless effort to relieve the itching caused by mange, dead animals everywhere, decomposing or partially eaten by the starving dogs — all inhabiting the barns from hell. Outside the barns, dead animals were found in crates, under a picnic table, and dumped in piles. It was Dante´s inferno without the flames.
Several triage stations were set up. The first order of business was to remove the dogs from the barns. They were in the worst condition.
The live dogs were carried from the barns and examined by veterinarians to determine if they were strong enough to sustain the intense treatments required to rid them of the sarcoptic mange that invaded their skin. Those that were too debilitated were humanely euthanized.
In one barn, a black female lab mix stood barking in the midst of wet molding bread and feces. Though the dog was very thin and missing hair on many parts of her body, a vet determined that she could survive the treatments. In another barn, a small, black female dog was huddled in a sodden box. She was skinny and pathetic and most of her hair was missing. But she lifted her head, barked, and wagged her tail when one of the rescuers picked her up. The vet determined that she too had a chance.
This horror story made the papers across the region. When Richard and Catherine Radcliffe in Rensselaer Co. read it,they were sickened. Not long before, they had taken a stray dog to the “Animals Farm Home” after unsuccessful attempts to find its owners. They would have kept the dog, but they were living in a “no pets” apartment. Shortly before they found the stray, a story had appeared in Guidepost magazine that had praised the “Farm” and its owner. As a result, the Radcliffes had taken the dog there.
Soon after the initial rescue operation, the court ordered that anyone who had surrendered an animal to the “Farm” could claim it. The Radcliffes made arrangements with NYSHA — in charge of the day-to-day supervision of the case for the Ulster County SPCA — to redeem her. They now owned a home and could take her back.
They came upon the black female lab mix they believed to be the stray and named her Sally. The mange treatments had worked and her coat looked much better. She licked their faces and wagged her tail, and they all went home. From the barns of hell, Sally went to a life of warmth and love.
After rescuing Sally, Catherine Radcliffe called her friends, Mark and Peggy Patton in Greene County, and told them the story. They, too, were moved by the plight of the animals that had fallen into the hands of this “collector.” Some months later, when the court ordered that the remaining animals could be adopted, the Pattons journeyed to the “Farm” and adopted the little black dog rescuers had found in the sodden box. She had survived the mange treatments and was looking much better, though still missing the hair around her eyes. When the Pattons came up to her cage, she reached out her paw and won a home. They named her Nellie.January, 1999. Both dogs have sent yearly Christmas cards to NYSHA. In January this year, three of us who had been involved in the rescue effort — Samantha Mullen, NYSHA´s Administrator during the “Animals Farm Home” case and coordinator of the rescue and oversight effort, Sondra Woodvine, NYSHA´s current Administrator, and I (Pat Valusek, NYSHA´s Chairperson) — decided to visit these two fortunate survivors to see how they were doing.
Now 11 years later, we saw Sally as a beloved member of the Radcliffe family. She had grey around her muzzle and some difficulty with her back legs, but she briskly wagged her tail when we entered the home. We don´t know if she remembered us, but we like to think she did. She had a companion, a sweet yellow dog, and they seemed to be nice friends.
“She has been wonderful and all anyone could ask for in a dog,” said Catherine.”It is hard for me to believe I was so taken in by the lies I was told at the ´Farm.´”
Next, we visited the Pattons and Nellie. A residual ring, now gray, around her eyes is the only clue to her miserable past life, something that certainly is not troubling her now. Beautiful, with a sleek, black coat, perky and full of life, she is a joy. It brought tears to our eyes to remember how she once looked and what her fate would have been.
The Pattons looked down fondly on Nellie. “She has been the most wonderful dog,” said Peggy Patton. “Ever since we got her, she has brought us joy. We are so glad we adopted her. I cannot believe someone gave her up. She is so full of life and love. Thank God, you were able to expose the place and shut it down.”
Please support NYSHA to continue to help animals through its anti-cruelty workshops and rescue coordination. Your donation dollars could not be better spent.
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer 1999.