Sep. 17—The case of an Alexandria woman who is charged with neglecting a teenage dependent and 94 animals illustrates a need for rehabilitative justice.
Maleah Stringer, executive director of the Animal Protection League and Herald Bulletin columnist, described the horrific conditions and the strain that such cases place on local animal shelters. Stringer called for stiff penalties for violators of animal cruelty laws, and rightly so.
Animals seized included dogs, guinea pigs, chickens, pigs, lizards and chinchillas. Several dead and decomposing animals were found on the property.
A police officer on the scene described it as the most unsanitary conditions he'd seen in his 10 years in law enforcement.
Nancy L. Clemmer, 58, and the teenage girl were living in a small house on the property that was described as reeking of urine and feces. The police report stated that the smell was so bad in parts of Clemmer's house that a representative of the Madison County Health Department vomited.
A reaction of outrage for the suffering inflicted upon these animals and a child in natural. But another dimension characterizes animal hoarding cases.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that animal hoarders are typically not cruel people. Compulsive hoarding is often described as a symptom of a mental disorder rather than deliberate cruelty.
Clemmer told police that she wanted to turn her property into an animal rescue, an example of how many hoarders start with good intentions. The ASPCA's website on hoarding states that hoarders often genuinely believe that they are helping the animals in their care.
With the amount of resources used to deal with this case in the form of police, courts and animal rescue workers, accountability is important.
However, this case also highlights a need for access to mental health services and a balance between punishment and rehabilitation in our justice system.