PETA's 2010 to 2011 undercover investigation of Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS)—founded and operated by hoarder Elizabeth Owen—exposed the chronic deprivation and suffering of approximately 300 cats who were kept in filthy, stifling-hot, dungeon-like, disease-ridden storage units near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In April 2012, Owen was convicted of depriving her animals of care and, in part because of South Carolina's weak and outdated laws, was given a sentence that leaves animals in her hands and others at risk!
After reviewing evidence gathered during PETA's investigation, a judge ordered the removal of all the animals from SVAS, which finally shut its doors. But the judge allowed Owen to keep 30 cats and a dog after Owen's attorney claimed that those doomed animals were Owen's "personal pets." Owen was required to provide veterinary care to her 31 "pets" within 14 days of the March 1, 2011, seizure.
But in the year or so between the seizure and Owen's conviction, Horry County officials did nothing to ensure that no more animals suffered and died at Owen's hands. Despite having extensive evidence—including video recordings and dozens of photographs—of Owen's conduct and its fatal consequences for her animals, prosecutors (known as "solicitors" in South Carolina) never filed state cruelty-to-animals charges against her. Instead, the evidence was passed from one assistant solicitor to another, and all of them sat on it.
Meanwhile, county officials failed to keep their promise to ensure that the 31 "pets" returned to Owen received the veterinary examinations and care required of her. PETA asked county officials to check on those animals month after month for a year, to no avail. According to solicitors, Owen even left South Carolina—evidently along with those animals—even though a condition of her court case was that she could not leave the state. For all county officials and solicitors know, another SVAS could have been started in another community, given that the relapse rate for animal hoarders is virtually 100 percent.
Read more about PETA's findings at SVAS here, and view photos from the investigation now.
The court did not restrict Owen's possession of animals nor order a psychological evaluation—common and critical elements of sentencing in animal hoarding cases. In the wake of Owen's case, Horry County amended its animal protection ordinances to prohibit some aspects of animal hoarding, such as depriving a large number of companion animals of care in severely crowded conditions. However, the change did nothing to enable courts to prohibit convicted hoarders from owning or possessing animals and does not spell out for judges the ways in which they can prevent future cruelty (for example, requiring a psychiatric evaluation and necessary counseling) when sentencing animal hoarders.
Please help ensure that animals are better protected from animal addicts like Owen by urging the Horry County Council and Paul Whitten, the county's assistant administrator for public safety, to require that convicted hoarders be prohibited from owning or possessing animals and be required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and any recommended treatment.
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Dear [Decision Maker],
* (Edit Letter Below) Thank you for updating Horry County's animal protection ordinances to prohibit some aspects of animal hoarding. I urge you to strengthen county law and enable courts to prevent convicted animal hoarders from harming and killing more animals.
The ordinance (17-12) you just passed does nothing to enable courts to prohibit convicted hoarders from owning or possessing animals and does not spell out for judges the ways in which they can prevent further cruelty (for example, requiring a psychiatric evaluation and necessary counseling) when sentencing animal hoarders. Hoarders are essentially animal addicts, and they are known to start over once animals are taken from them--unless our judicial system prevents it.
For example, in April 2012, hoarder Elizabeth Owen was convicted of denying care to some of the approximately 240 cats she kept in dark, stifling-hot storage units near Myrtle Beach. The Horry County court that sentenced Owen did not restrict her possession of animals at all, allowing Owen to amass and neglect animals all over again.
Please ensure that Owen's victims did not die in vain. I ask that you again amend county law to require that those convicted of hoarding animals in Horry County be barred from owning or possessing animals and be ordered to submit to a psychiatric evaluation and any necessary treatment.
Thank you for your time and consideration.