Animal hoarding comes at a big price

RIPLEY, Ohio - Tucked into the bottom of a hillside in Ripley, Ohio lives Ruth Wilder, her husband, son, daughter and 69 dogs. They live in and around what amounts to a shack. The place is littered with trinkets that have sat in the sun, the rain and the snow.

There isn't overwhelming evidence that the home has electricity. A portable toilet near the home on the property questions whether there is running water. Wilder is a 65-year-old woman living likely at or below the poverty line.

Wilder waited for one rainy day in June with heaviness in her heart. The day she will give up all but three of her dogs to the Brown County Dog Warden, Leslie Zureick.

Wilder is an animal hoarder. She knows it. But the strain, financial and physical, is too much for her.

"I sleep on a lawn chair with a couch pillow on it for a bed," Wilder said. "And [I've] been buying part of my medicine and doing without part of it."

In large part, Wilder is willing to give up the dogs without a fight because of Zureick, who took over the Brown County Animal Shelter in Nov. 2011 and got rid of the gas chamber. 

Zureick promised Wilder her dogs would not be euthanized.

"She knew we weren't gonna kill 'em," said Zureick. "We weren't gonna euthanize any dogs."

Having significantly fewer dogs will help Wilder live a longer, healthier life.  But the burden now shifts to Zureick. 

She and the Brown County Animal Shelter can't handle the cost of these dogs alone. Just to get them off Wilder's property is too much for her small team. She reached out to national animal welfare organization, Red Rover. 

Red Rover sent in volunteers from all parts of the country. Petsmart charities donated money and things like cages, of which dozens are needed to get the animals off Wilder's property.

The dogs are moved to two old barns where veterinarians check  them for any disease. They are given shots, food, love, attention and baths.

All of it costs money. They estimate the veterinary care alone will be $16,000, and that's if the dogs are fairly healthy.

In addition, volunteers man the barns at all hours. Walking and caring for the dogs.

Two weeks after being removed from Wilder's home at the barns, the dogs were clean and happy. Many were adopted. Only 22 dogs remained. 

Despite the toll on her people, on volunteers, on her budget, Zureick has kept her promise to Wilder. None of the dogs that were rescued from Wilder's home were euthanized.

By the end of June, the dogs from Wilder's home were all either adopted or with dog rescues.

After Wilder's dogs were taken, a husky showed up on her property. The hoarder in her would have wanted to keep that dog. Instead she called Zureick to pick the up the animal. 

Zureick says since the day the dogs were all taken, Wilder has cleaned up her home. The room where the dogs lived is now habitable by humans.

Zureick says Wilder seems healthier and happier.

She believes this may be a rare case where a hoarder decides not to hoard any longer.

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