Animal rights activists say that a Myrtle Beach, S.C., animal sanctuary is in fact a house of horrors.
After being informed of the conditions at Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched an undercover investigation. A PETA investigator went undercover as a volunteer at SVAS and, while working there for six months, documented approximately 300 cats being kept in “filthy, stifling, dungeon-like, disease-ridden storage units. The majority of the cats are kept caged 24/7 in wire crates, most of which contain two to four cats each.
PETA contends that the Elizabeth Owen, the owner of SVAS, routinely denied veterinary care to the cats under her care and that many of them suffered painful deaths as a result. The types of illnesses documented included seizures, open wounds, severe upper respiratory infections, hair loss, mouth ulcers, conjunctivitis, painful dental conditions, and more. The investigator also reported that cats in her care had tested positive for FIV and feline leukemia.
They say Owen even refused offers for free veterinary care and often hid her sick or injured charges in her thrift store next door.
One volunteer said on a video shot by the PETA investigator that she had buried “at least 100” cats who died at the sanctuary. You can see the video here, but be warned that “graphic and disturbing” doesn’t even begin to describe the horrific conditions documented in this film.
PETA’s investigator said he had had many conversations in which Owen admitted not medicating sick animals or seeking care for them. In a letter to Solicitor Greg Hembree, PETA described Owen as an “animal hoarder” who at times doesn’t have enough cat food or litter on hand for the 300-plus cats in her care. Owen is keeping the animals “in squalor and consistent deprivation of everything that is natural to them,” PETA’s letter read.
PETA said they first reported Owen to law enforcement in July, 2010, when they were assured she would close after all of the cats she had were adopted. The shelter is hidden behind a church in an industrial area, and the organization alleges that Owen has made no extra efforts to place the cats in homes and many of the animals have been at Sacred Vision for years.
In September, police officersvisiting the sanctuary found a strong ammonia odor emanating from the kennel area and doorway, litter pans full of feces, an emaciated cat, several cats with eye problems, very poor lighting, a cat with hair loss and a broken air conditioner. Fans were circulating the air around the room.
Officers returned the next day to find that Owen had been up all night cleaning. The officers felt that Owen was doing the best she could with her limited resources, but also said she is not providing adequate care to all the animals in the facility and requested that half of them be removed, which Owen refused.
Owen was charged with violating the county’s animal care and treatment ordinance for not having certificates and tags showing animals were vaccinated against rabies and for not providing adequate veterinary care.
In November, assistant prosecutor Michael O’Sullivan took a veterinarian and animal control officials with him on a visit to Sacred Vision, which he described as a series of warehouses similar to other shelters.
“I did not observe any unbelievable atrocities,” O’Sullivan said. “This is not someone who is out to abuse animals.”
O’Sullivan said he personally looked at each of the more than 300 animals living in tiered crates inside the shelter and saw no evidence of abuse or neglect — or the filthy, cramped conditions PETA alleges.
“I had no reason to think she was abusing these animals,” O’Sullivan said. “The day that I went through, it was clean. It was well taken care of.
In meetings with Owen’s attorney Greg McCollum and representatives from PETA, O’Sullivan said he has tried to work out a compromise to placate the group, suggesting that some of the animals be moved to other no-kill shelters in the area. But with other Myrtle Beach-area facilities over capacity themselves, O’Sullivan said he provided Owen with a list of no-kill shelters in North Carolina.
Last Wednesday, PETA officials dropped off evidence, including a video, photos, and a 42-page complaint against nonprofit Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary.In light of the new evidence, Horry County prosecutors plan to ask a judge to allow the county to take over care of the animals.
Owen was charged with failing to provide adequate veterinary care for the cats at the shelter, and has requested a jury trial. McCollum, said she has not taken in any new cats since PETA began criticizing what she was doing. He admitted that some of the cats died while at the shelter, but said many were sick when they arrived.
McCollum, said his client is an animal lover who is distressed by the allegations and has done nothing to hurt any animals.
“She knows every one of these cats by name,” he said. “This has been a very personally, emotionally distressing situation for her.”
In response to PETA’s allegation that Owen has refused veterinary care for the animals, McCollum said Owen regularly has vets come in to examine the animals and that PETA merely wants to spirit the cats away to euthanize on their own terms.
“They’re cat killers, and that’s what they want to happen,” McCollum said.