Hoarder or savior?
A woman who believes she was put on this earth to care for God’s creatures said she was suicidal after animal control officers seized 45 dogs and cats from her home.
Sixteen dogs are now in the care of foster families and more than a dozen cats were euthanized following what animal services officers consider an animal hoarding case.
Susan Corbin has few other possessions aside from the cats and dogs she loves so much.
“God gave me one thing and that was to take care of my animals,” she said.
Owning dozens of animals at once is not unusual for Corbin, who said she has always had up to 50 animals at a time. She takes in dogs and cats of all kinds, especially those that are hurt or sick.
“Some come from people that were beating and kicking them around, and I took them in,” she said, while bottle feeding a tiny gray kitten whose mother ran out of milk.
Sometimes she brings home unwanted cats and dogs she sees at yard sales or in the Walmart parking lot. She has even adopted several from the Haywood County Animal Shelter.
To Corbin, each animal is special — each one has a story and a name, from Lacy the Chihuahua mix to the her 9-year-old Great Dane and Lab mix dog, Hawk, who is nearly blind and suffers from tumors considered too risky to remove. She says she regularly takes all of her animals in for veterinary care.
Though she hasn’t had a kitchen in 15 years and only eats out or uses a microwave for her own meals, she said she spends about $150 each week on animal food.
“My animals don’t eat that Dollar Store food,” she said.
But she is heartbroken after she said officers gave her no choice but to give up most of her animals. The loss aggravated her fibromyalgia and put her on the brink of suicide. She said a vision of Jesus on the cross saved her.
“He said to me, ‘I died for you,’ and then it was me on the cross. I felt the arrows in my stomach, I felt the spikes and then my suicidal thoughts ceased,” she said.
But she and the animals have lived in fear that someone else will come take them away.
“It has affected the animals too,” she said. “For days they were scared.”
A sheriff’s deputy noticed the unusual number of animals at the home while searching for a man wanted for past-due child support on Friday, Nov. 22. Though he did not find the man, Deputy Brad Shirley did notice “deplorable” conditions at the home on Pigeon Road, according to a report from Haywood County Animal Services.
In his report, Shirley reported the matter to the county animal control officers, and noted cat and dog feces was in the house and that he saw “approximately 15 Yorkies and several cats running around in the residence.”
After an inspection warrant was carried out at the home, the owner agreed to surrender a total of 32 animals — 16 cats and 16 dogs — for relocation to the shelter.
Officers returned to the home three days later for another inspection and found the owner had cleaned the residence “a lot” compared to the previous visit. The woman surrendered another three dogs and 10 cats.
"They wanted me to choose, but how could I choose?" she said in an interview several days after her beloved pets were taken away.
In the end, Corbin ended up keeping the animals she felt needed her the most, including a pregnant, one-eyed tabby, her blind dog Hawk and others with special needs.
All of the dogs were taken to Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation because animal services does not budget to treat all sick or injured animals impounded by the officers, said Jean Hazzard, director of Haywood County Animal Services.
All of the cats were euthanized because of upper respiratory problems, Hazzard said, news that nearly made Corbin cry. She said all of the cats were being given antibiotics for their health problems.
Debi Slater, operations manager at Sarge’s, said they took in 18 of the dogs, which ranged in age, size and breed. Many of them are mixed terrier breeds from three weeks to five years old and are all currently in foster care. Two of the dogs have already been adopted.
Eight puppies, which Slater believes to be mixed with Plott Hound and Lab, will be available in a couple weeks. Both the mother and father dogs were at the home with the puppies.
Slater said for the most part, the owner seemed to have taken care of the dogs because the majority of them were spayed or neutered and up-to-date on their rabies shots.
Sarge’s has only taken in animals from a hoarding situation one time before that Slater can remember.
“I think whenever you find a situation like this, and I’ve been in this business for years and years, it’s somebody who started out with good intentions and loves all the animals but they just get overwhelmed,” Slater said.
Because of the conditions, law enforcement officers would have been allowed to remove all the animals, but after willingly surrendering some of her pets, officers agreed the owner could keep the rest.
“The remaining cats and dogs, 14 total, are being monitored on a weekly basis by the officers through this month and then on a monthly basis starting in January,” Hazzard said.
Each town has its own ordinance when it comes to pets. The only town in Haywood County that imposes a limit on how many animals a person can own is Canton, which only allows residents to own three animals at a time, Hazzard said.
Corbin has not been charged with any crime and says she doesn’t understand why her animals were taken away from their loving home.
“I wish someone would step up and help people like me that try to take care of their animals. There are people out there who beat their animals,” she said.
Visit www.sargeandfriends.org to view pictures of the dogs available for adoption that were surrendered by the owner.