This photo was shot by a private citizen on January 6, 2013, kicked off the Alicia Inglish arrest by Marion County Sheriffs

The January 13th arrest by Marion County Sheriffs of Alicia Inglish for the “neglect” of 149 dogs who were starving, crammed without water into tiny transportation carriers filled with feces and urine – sparked the outrage of local animal advocates.   Their anger was not just with Inglish’s unconscionable cruelty, but because her actions had been known about for several years, and numerous impassioned complaints to local agencies had resulted in no action.

In fact, contrary to sheriff’s reports, it took the actions of a concerned private citizen – not crack detective work by law enforcement – to finally prompt a search warrant, the release of the animals from horrific conditions and the arrest of those responsible.

The details of the Inglish arrest highlight serious problems Willamette Valley residents face in getting help to animals who suffer in our area, and point to measures that must be taken if there will ever be real relief for cruelty here.

According to a Marion County Sheriff statement on January 14, action taken on Inglish occurred because of “recent reports” by “former employees and complainants.”

Marsha Chambers, founder of Hope’s Haven Animal Rescue in Polk County, disagrees.  “The sheriffs taking credit for the arrest is a joke,” she says.  “My voice has been yelling, screaming about Alicia Inglish for years, and nothing ever happened.  “The Humane Society said they needed evidence.  Every single person at Marion County said they couldn’t go in there.  If you called them on the phone, they’d say they had a file 10 inches thick on [Inglish] but not one of us could ever get them to go in there – never.”

Marion County sheriffs report that they indeed received “several complaints about the care of the animals and the conditions of the facility,” but that their initial strategy was to resolve complaints “without taking formal enforcement action.”  They add, “Unfortunately, our efforts were met with a lack of cooperation.”  The department was also aware that the Oregon Humane Society [located in Portland] had received complaints and that they were also “denied access to inspect the facility.”

Still, they did not act. Nearly every animal advocate we spoke to, including Chambers, applauds the integrity shown by sheriff and county officials in cruelty cases.  But they say the obligation of law enforcement to follow laws protecting private property and the need to prioritize cases where human beings are victims, mean that these agencies are not ideal as the sole apparatus to prevent animal suffering.

The woman who prompted decisive action in the Inglish situation is a Willamette Valley resident and dog owner who has asked to be called “Lisa” while the case is still ongoing.  Like sheriffs and the Oregon Humane Society, Lisa had “heard for months about the horrific conditions at the facility.”

Lisa had friends who volunteered for Inglish.  They told her about miserable, ill animals enduring appalling treatment.  When Lisa, who says she is “never one to keep my mouth shut when helpless animals are suffering,” confronted Inglish at an animal adoption outreach, she was invited out to the property to see for herself.  But when she arrived for the appointment “the door was unlocked and the lights were on,” Lisa found no one inside.

“What I saw instead was truly horrible,” she relates with emotion.  “The smell was unbelievable.  Starving animals, crying animals, no food or water, lying in their own feces.”  One dog, cramped in a small container, couldn’t rise to bark at her because his rib was broken and untreated.

An hour and a half after her phoning them, sheriff officers arrived.  They met out front of the facility.

”Both officers were awesome,” Lisa begins.  “They went above and beyond the call with this.”

“They told me there was a big backlog of complaints,” Lisa says, “an ongoing investigation.  But they said they didn’t have current evidence, so they couldn’t get inside.”

Lisa found the officers caring and sympathetic.  Hearing what they said, she promptly walked back in and snapped the photos that Marion County Sheriffs would use to obtain a search warrant.   It then took a week for the department to arrange paperwork to search the property, arrest Inglish, seize the dogs and coordinate with other agencies to care for the rescues.

After years of suffering, the dogs had the chance to live a better life.

Oregon laws on animal treatment can be found in the Revised Statutes (available online) in sections ORS 167.310 – 167.390.  Violations of these laws are criminal offenses.  All but one are misdemeanors; one is a Class C felony.

But who investigates cases and enforces  these laws?

Most assume they would report cruelty to an agency with familiar names, like County Animal Control or The Humane Society.

These are not options in our area.  Marion County Animal Control only handles issues like barking complaints, licensing and strays.  The Willamette Humane Society in Salem – which had a Cruelty Inspection program for many years – now refers all abuse calls to local sheriffs and police.   (The Oregon Humane Society, located in Portland, does investigate abuse but is stretched thin and generally confines its work to the Portland Area).

It can be daunting to locate the correct agency to report cruelty to.  Calling Willamette Humane Society requires learning office hours and sitting through phone trees – only to learn they don’t handle the issue.  Contacting 911 results in referral to non-emergency police and sheriff lines, which can be confusing and where there are often long hold times.

The process discourages people, says Sylvia Strand, former Willamette Humane Society Volunteer.  “It takes time for the average person to get through all this,” she says.  “Many feel they are getting nowhere and they just give up.”

Also, once they realize their complaint must be filed with law enforcement, “many may not report situations because they don’t want to file a police complaint [and] ‘give their name,’” according to Dr. Arlene Brooks of Turner’s Last Chance Club, who says that edging into ‘criminal matters’ can intimidate ordinary citizens.

Animal advocate Michelle Blake, co-chair of the board of Fences for Fido, believes that law enforcement does a generally excellent job with larger animal abuse cases.  Still, she says, “there are probably hundreds of dogs in our area who are living alone in conditions that don’t come close to meeting the minimum care requirements… I think it’s hard for law enforcement officers to know when they can or should take action on those.”

How can Oregon law better help animals in our area?  How can the burden placed on county and city law enforcement be eased?  What steps might our region take to better relieve animal suffering in our midst?
See Part 2 of Salem Weekly’s story in our next issue.