Another Charge Filed in Hoarding Case; Advocates Call for Stronger Laws

The owner of an animal sanctuary gone awry in Vanderburgh County has been charged with an additional count of animal cruelty after sheriff's deputies and animal advocacy groups seized and processed 68 dogs from a former church building in late February. Martha Crosley, 68, was charged with two counts of animal cruelty in late April after authorities seized 23 cats from her Stringtown Road home in mid-March.

All three counts of animal cruelty are Class A misdemeanors.

Jess Powers, the spokeswoman for the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office, attributed the delay in charges being filed for the initial animal seizure to the voluminous amount of paperwork that had to be collected and completed. Detectives had to locate and collect medical records, veterinary records, photographs and other documents for each of the 68 dogs, many of whom were older animals with medical conditions that pre-dated the seizure.

In the time since the animals were seized, many of the dogs and cats have been adopted at Vanderburgh Humane Society. As of Thursday, there were seven dogs and five cats from the hoarding cases that are still up for adoption, according to Kendall Paul, the executive director of VHS. Many of the cats' adoption fees have been cut in half in order to help them find loving homes.

Some dogs still aren't available for adoption, however. Advocacy group Another Chance for Animals is fostering 10 dogs from the hoarding case while the criminal case against Crosley proceeds through the courts. The dogs are considered evidence and must be preserved, officials said.

The sheer number of animals and the complex, unique nature of the case has placed a great strain on the resources of Evansville area animal shelters.

"That's 10 foster spaces that we currently don't have at the beginning of the summer, which is a very busy period," said Audrey Julian, the administrative coordinator for ACA. "These dogs seem to be very happy. They're sleeping in their beds. They're playing with our animals. They are happy animals that could be adoptable."

VHS has just now started to 'catch up' after having to intake more than 40 animals as a result of the hoarding case.

"It takes a lot to run this facility anyway. When you add 40 plus animals in just a couple of days. You're really stretching your resources thin," Paul said. "They're great dogs. They've got great personalities. The cats are the same way. Yes, some of them are a little bit older but sometimes that's what people need."

By all indications, it appears that Crosley had good intentions when she started the animal sanctuary. It was even a registered non-profit. However, along the way, things allegedly got out of hand. Many of the dogs that authorities seized were older and sick. They were dogs that often go the longest without being adopted.

Even though Crosley has been charged with three counts of animal cruelty -- all misdemeanors -- it's entirely possible she won't face any jail time. The maximum penalty for a class A misdemeanor is one year in prison.

For Julian, that's not nearly enough. However, Julian added that more should be done to help those with compulsive, hoarding behaviors.

"We hope for better laws. We hope for better help for both the animals and these people," Julian said. "The recidivism rate for these animal hoarders is almost 100%. I wouldn't want them to go back to [Crosley] but I trust that the prosecutor's office can do what they can to make sure that the best interest of the animals is intact."

Paul agrees.

"If it's just a matter of them getting slapped with a fine or they're issued a citation, they're going to do it again," Paul said. "They'll move. They'll go to a different location. They'll move out of that location. They'll move out of that city, out of that county. They'll simply do this again somewhere else."

Powers said the prosecutor's office echoes the same concerns that many animal advocates share about the state's animal welfare laws. Powers encourages anyone with concerns to contact their local legislator.

While the case continues to course its way through the courts, Julian said the foster parents taking care of these animals deserve everyone's praise.

"They're the true heroes in this. They are pouring their hearts into these animals," Julian said. "We're not sure if they're going to be given back to [Crosley]."
 


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