For at least three years, Linden Spear, executive director of the Haven, a no-kill facility in Raeford, has played the role of the victim: unfairly singled out by state animal welfare inspectors who have consistently cited the Haven with scores of serious violations; misunderstood by critics, including reputable animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, who are disturbed by the conditions in which the 1,000-plus dogs and cats live.
Yet, as years of inspection reports indicate, Spear has failed to significantly improve or manage conditions at the Haven. Even though state regulators have urged her to reduce the number of dogs and cats at the facility, state documents show she continues to take in animals that, due to the numbers, aren't properly cared for.
A May 10 letter from Barry Bloch with the N.C. Attorney General's office to Spear's attorney, William Van O'Linda Jr., says the state agriculture department "has significant reason to question your client's judgment and interest in animals' welfare."
State regulators with the N.C. Department of Agriculture have given Spear a Sept. 1 deadline to meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act or risk being fined per violation, which, considering the number, could be quite expensive. She could also choose to enter a settlement agreement with the state and resign from the organization, surrender the animals or even dissolve the nonprofit that she heads.
These are big ifs. While documentation on the Haven runs dozens and dozens of pages, the state has dragged its feet in closing the facility. It continues to give Spear another chance—and another and another—to comply.
Spear told the Indy this week that six buildings are under construction and that she plans to make the Sept. 1 deadline. She said she has reduced the number of animals "significantly." There are fewer animals now than last winter, but the number still tops 1,000. State documents show that in July, a total of 1,078 dogs and cats were living on the premises; in December 2009, the total was 1,338. In October, there were 1,310.
Over the years, citizens have filed complaints against the Haven, including one last October. A visitor told state officials she saw three cages containing dead animals that were lying next to live animals. No food or water was in the cage. (Inspectors visited a week later and did not see any dead animals.)
Photographs provided by the state show dogs standing in their own feces and urine; some have ears bloodied by fly bites. Other animals are ill or injured. In the case of puppies with mange and ringworm, state inspectors requested treatment records, but the Haven did not provide them.
Spear refutes many of the state's claims. She said cages are cleaned twice a day and that inspectors chose not to photograph the areas after the cleaning. "If inspectors are here from 8 until 3, that would show the conditions the animals typically live in. They're only interested in catching us."
Spear has also told inspectors conflicting stories about many aspects of the facility, ranging from the housing of animals in a dark, hot barn—a violation of animal welfare law—to the removal of trash. A 7-foot-tall pile of garbage, 20 feet by 20 feet square, was still sitting behind the barn as of mid-July.
With only a handful of inspectors to monitor shelters, rescues and other animal care facilities in 100 counties, the animal welfare division is understaffed, especially to tackle issues as complex as the Haven's.
"We need far more people," said Dr. Lee Hunter, director of the Animal Welfare Section of the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
"I do wish the department had more support to be able to handle situations like this," said Kim Alboum, state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The Indy visited the Haven in 2007 when state regulators were again clamping down on the facility. Since then, according to state inspection reports, Spear has installed two new cat condos and a new 2,400-square-foot building that would house dogs, and ordered new tarps for the outdoor kennels, but the facility continues to flout the law.
"She cares about these animals," said Dr. Hunter. "But we have a different view of certain things. Is it good for a St. Bernard to be kept in an air crate? Or animals with respiratory disease in a dark, dusty, damp barn?"
Photographs from the state's July 12 inspection show dogs and cats stuffed in airline crates and cages in a barn on the property. Although inspection reports show Spear continued to keep animals in the barn, she told state officials it was only "temporary."
"It was moving day," Spear explained. "Animals were left in the barn that day."
Yet according to several inspections dating back at least a year, state officials consistently ordered Spear not to house animals in the barn because of the extreme temperatures and unsanitary conditions. Animal welfare laws mandate that animals must be kept in areas where the temperature can be monitored with a thermometer; temperatures must be kept between 50 and 85 degrees. Spear said she used the barn to house sick animals. There are now air- conditioned buildings for the animals, she said.
The inspections and photographs detail an abundance of feces, broken doghouses and injured dogs, including one with a tumor irritated from dangling near its leg.
As for the enormous pile of garbage and waste, Spear told state inspectors that the trash hauler's truck had broken down. However, when state inspectors contacted the hauling company, the owner stated he "did not service that area of Hoke County."
Asked about any new garbage arrangements, Spear paused and replied, "We take it to the county dump. And we have a dumpster for trash removal."
Alboum visited the Haven in February. She said that the organization offered to take several hundred dogs from the Haven, but Spear never responded. Spear told the Indy HSUS can look at animals on the Haven's website.
Spear wanted assurance that no animal would be euthanized, Alboum said. However, considering that some of the animals might be very ill and suffering—or dangerous—HSUS can't guarantee that. (Even no-kill shelters, such as the Wake County SPCA, can euthanize animals that are suffering; they can choose not to take in dangerous animals.)
"We have to evaluate every dog," Alboum said. "A no-kill nation is certainly a goal. I hope we can attain that."
The failure of pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and cats contributes to situations such as that at the Haven.
"Warehousing animals is not the answer," Alboum said. "Spay/ neuter is the answer."