Precedent-Setting Rescuer Accused of Animal Cruelty
Last year, Oakland, Calif., attorney Jan Van Dusen won a battle against the Internal Revenue Service that could benefit animal rescuers across the country. After a long debate, a U.S. Tax Court judge found that thousands of dollars in income tax deductions she claimed for her cat care expenses were, in fact, legitimately deductible as a donation to an IRS-approved charity.
But it's recently come to light that Van Dusen may actually be a hoarder.
Nearly 100 cats were seized from her home on Oct. 27, most of whom, Oakland Animal Services alleges, were emaciated and suffering from parasite infestations, diarrhea, and other illnesses. Sixteen of the cats had to be put down because of severe health problems, but 77 others are now up for adoption.
Now Van Dusen is facing a felony animal cruelty charge, which could get her three years in jail and a $20,000 fine. Naturally, she pleaded not guilty. She'll be going to court next week.
Cat Town, a local nonprofit, is helping Oakland Animal Services find homes for Van Dusen's cats. From their point of view, it looks less like a case of hoarding than a case of a rescuer who simply became overwhelmed.
I've got mixed feelings about this case. Frankly, I'm more inclined to believe that Van Dusen is an overwhelmed rescuer, not a hoarder. But there's a fine line between these two categories. Did she cross it? I don't know: I haven't seen all the cats, so I can't determine whether (from my point of view as a cat-loving layperson) the cats were well cared-for.
On the other hand, some of the things Van Dusen said in her defense sound a lot like the rationale of a hoarder. She said the shelter has no right to find new homes for the cats because 10 of them are actually her personal pets, and others were either in the process of being adopted or feral cats that she intended to care for.
"Things were mostly under control," she said. "They killed some of my favorites, which they had no right to do."
But were they? Was she blind to legitimate suffering of the cats in her care, as most hoarders are? Or is she telling the truth?
This photo of a cat that came to the animal shelter missing an eye is really not conclusive. It could have lost an eye before Van Dusen took it in, or could have lost it in an accident — and there's no way for me to know, from the account in the news article, whether Van Dusen sought veterinary treatment for this cat or not.
I guess we'll find out as more details of this case come to light. Meanwhile, go read the San Francisco Chronicle article about the case (don't worry; there aren't any graphic photos) and tell me what you think. Is she sick, or is her only crime being too big-hearted to say no to a cat in need?