Animals. We have no shortage of them. We also have no shortage of love for them. Or concern about their safety and wellbeing. That’s the whole point of working in the animal welfare field. The good part, besides the animals themselves, is being surrounded by people who also love and care about them. The bad part can be that passion, on all sides, can sometimes lead to wrongful conclusions. A lesson that, in most situations, can be more complicated than they appear.

There’s not a single day I don’t catch myself being careful not to jump to wrongful conclusions. And I’m not always successful. Whether it’s about an employee action, a program challenge or an animal issue – I constantly have to remind myself how important it is to learn the whole story. This came in very handy last week when we rescued what is now more than 120 Yorkshire terrier mixes living in horrific conditions in a hoarding situation in Poway.

These dogs were living, if you can call it that, in deplorable, unsanitary and harmful conditions. The smell alone may have constituted cruelty. Every age, size, and condition; we had rooms full of what we rarely have in the shelter… Yorkies! The story broke on social media, then traditional media in print, TV and radio, then word of mouth, then back to social media. Social media can be wonderful and brutal all at the same time. We all know that. But the anger towards the people who owned these dogs was palpable in some of the social media threads. I get it. None of us can fathom doing this to an animal. But we often don’t know the whole story. We don’t know what was happening to these people and how much they were suffering – caught up in something they couldn’t control. Had they been able to, they probably would have made different choices.

I’m not saying what happened to these dogs wasn’t horrible. What I’m saying is how important it is to get the full picture. And to save some of that compassion we all have for animals for these people, too. A few days later, our Humane Law Enforcement team returned to the hoarder house to rescue an additional 29 dogs and puppies that were hidden at another location during the original rescue. It had been another long and hard day for our officers and staff knowing we had to admit more of these animals into our shelter. But our humane officers told me a story I didn’t expect. The elderly gentleman involved in this hoarding case actually sent flowers and a thank you card to our officers he met at his home. That’s a first all in itself. But it’s what he said in that card that made me swallow hard. He wrote: “Thank you for giving me back my life and my home!” He actually thanked us. I wish he had called us years earlier for help.

Dr. Gary Weitzman's Signiture
Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA
President and CEO
San Diego Humane Society