Has My Practice Gone to the Dogs?

One of the things you never expect when you go to law school is that one day you might be representing a client who has 109 dogs living in his house and another 150 dead ones stashed in the freezer. Well that is what happened to me last Thursday. I received a call from the sister of my client stating that housing officials in Dearborn, Michigan showed up at my client’s home and found just that. She wanted me to look into it. Over the past 10 days, I have found myself in the midst of a very sad but human story that could result in criminal charges being leveled against my client.
The story unfolded when, as I said, housing officials asked to enter the house of Ken L. Ken has OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that in his case, manifested itself in him by not being able to get rid of anything. So, not only did Ken’s home contain years of stuff that Ken could not discard, but also included 109 living Chihuahuas. In addition, authorities found more than 150 dogs frozen in seven freezers in the basement that had died naturally. While the inside of the house was filled floor to ceiling with stuff Ken had collected through the years, the outside of his home was immaculate. The lawn and hedges were perfect and a twenty-year old car parked in the driveway could be a museum piece.

Ken was removed immediately and sent for observation and diagnosis at a facility that deals with behavioral issue. At the house, eight men in hazmet suits worked twelve hours a day to find the living dogs and remove all the things Ken had collected. Much of this stuff is covered in dog feces and urine and cannot be salvaged. The house will likely be demolished. The dogs, which had not been spayed or neutered, and were the result unbridled breeding by two Chihuahuas that Ken had acquired a few years ago, are being adopted by some of the 300 or more families that applied.

Ken on the other hand is a gentle man. He knows that his conduct was unacceptable yet he is unable to control the compulsions that rage inside. A man, who even after being exposed, still insists he has the capacity to care for them. He also made sure these dogs were well fed and the humane department reported, that under the circumstances the dogs were remarkedly in good condition.

This week authorities will be meeting with Ken and me to determine whether Ken will face criminal charges for animal cruelty. Hopefully, they will understand that what first started out as an animal story, is really a human story where there was no intent but an individual who faces severe behavioral issues that are not unique to Ken but afflict a surprising number of people. In addition, Ken will finally receive treatment for his disorder, which without medical insurance, he could ill afford. In fact, maybe, this discovery may be for the best that ever happened to Ken; the dogs will get homes and he will get help.

When I said you don’t learn this in law school, it’s true. But it’s all in a days work.