A high profile case of animal hoarding hit the Denver press in July 1991. Ted Strickland, Republican president of the Colorado Senate and his 59 year-old wife LuAnne owned a 26-acre farm in Adams County outside of Denver that was overloaded with nearly 600 dogs and cats, most of which were unaltered. Authorities from the state agriculture department and the county sheriff raided the farm after a large mixed-breed dog escaped and menaced a neighbor. Once on the property, agents described a messy scene where hundreds of dogs and cats lived in poorly ventilated Quonset huts. Many were emaciated or sick. Feces were piled all over. The odor was described as putrid and disgusting. An assistant state veterinarian found dead cats in the main house and dead dogs near the dumpster. Shallow graves held the bodies of decaying animals. Health officials considered it a major health hazard.
Over the next 24 hours, authorities removed nearly all the animals and spread them among the local shelters, including the Denver Dumb Friends League and the Boulder County Humane Society where I volunteered. Some dogs and cats were missing eyes, had dental disease, were underweight or had other serious health or behavioral issues. At least 50 of the animals were euthanized right away. Others were humanely destroyed over the next few days.
How did LuAnne Strickland and her husband, a powerful Colorado politician, acquire so many animals? Over an 18-month period (January 1990 and April 1991), the Adams County animal shelter, at the behest of the county administrator, flung open the door and allowed LuAnne to take any dog or cat that was slated for euthanasia. That amounted to at least 2,100 animals, according to Jack Clancy, director of the Adams County animal control center. Sometimes she paid as little as $3 for cats, $6 for dogs or nothing at all. Not surprisingly, the press grilled the Adams County shelter about their carte blanche policy, which applied only to LuAnne. Officials were mum about the policy but it was widely presumed her marriage to the Senate president paved the way for her unfettered access.
Animal cruelty charges were leveled against LuAnne. Her husband Ted, who claimed he only lived at the ranch on weekends, was not implicated. Still, the case thrust him into a media frenzy. Naturally, he defended his wife and claimed she was only trying to save the doomed pets.
In the meantime, Boulder County Humane Society received 11 filthy, badly matted dogs from the Strickland ranch, which later increased to 18 because one gave birth to 7 puppies. Almost all the dogs had behavioral and medical issues but we nursed them back to health. I bathed all the dogs myself, except for one who snarled and growled at me. I was afraid of her. All others were sweet, lovable dogs who needed forever homes with responsible owners.
At a hearing in mid August Judge Harlan Bockman heard testimony from Dr. Robert Hilsenroth, who ran the Lakeside Veterinarian Hospital, and served as a witness for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
The doctor said, “I don’t think that LuAnne Strickland is fit to own one animal.” Graphic footage was shown of feces splattered all across the walls and urine-soaked carpets. A maintenance worker, who attempted to remove the carpet, said he threw up from the rancid smell and couldn’t go back inside. Other experts from the shelter community rallied against LuAnne and urged the judge not to return the animals to her custody. Judge Bockman issued a stunning ruling and awarded custody of the seized animals to LuAnne. The entire shelter community, including me, was shocked and angered by the news. Judge Bockman attached several key conditions to his ruling. Besides cleaning up the sprawling ranch and finding sufficient help to care for so many animals, LuAnne had to reimburse the shelters an estimated $64,000 for the cost of caring for her animals while they were in custody. If she failed to meet those demands by early September, ownership of the animals would go to the shelters. LuAnne failed to pay, despite winning a last minute injunction, and almost all the dogs and cats were eventually placed for adoption.
Every shelter that cared for Strickland dogs and cats, as they became known, hosted a special adoption event. In Boulder, we found homes for all our dogs, except for the one with severe behavioral issues. A Husky-mix that was adopted displayed out of control behavior problems and was returned. She too was euthanized but every other dog went to good homes, including a sweet King Charles Spaniel mix that was adopted by my neighbor, Romie Lundquist. Romie read a letter to the editor I wrote about the Strickland case and knocked on my door one afternoon. The Boulder Camera printed addresses of letter writers. I always watched what I wrote! Romie had lost her beloved Schnauzer recently and longed for another companion. She adopted the little dog and renamed her Peaches. Romie treated Peaches like royalty.
The Strickland dogs and cats deserved special care after living through hell. I got attached to all the dogs and missed them once they were gone. I always hoped LuAnne never took in more animals. Often judges in animal hoarding cases order that the defendant not own any more animals. Sometimes they insisted that hoarders enter into psychological treatment because their behavior was usually a sign of mental illness. That did not happen with LuAnne.
I trusted the officials who managed the Adams Countyanimal shelter never held jobs in the shelter community. They were incompetent, inept, and had no regard for the welfare of animals. The Adams Countyshelter altered their adoption policy so that no one could adopt more than two pets per year to prevent a Strickland case from happening again. That would deprive honest, devoted animal caregivers from providing homes to say three or four pets per year, provided of course they had adequate space and resources. The Strickland case seemed motivated entirely by political connections. But the most disturbing aspect was the fate of hundreds of animals that LuAnne took from the shelter that remained unaccounted for. What happened to them? The Stricklands refused to say and authorities had no way of finding out.
I moved away from the area in mid 1992. I never followed up on the Strickland’s but keep in touch with a friend who remains in the area. She never heard about the Strickland’s again.