Last month's foul Funk Road episode in which 25 carcasses and a few dozen sick and starving animals were found on two Calhan properties has exposed some major holes in the way the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region addresses eastern El Paso County.
And while the nonprofit blames the problems on a lack of funding, neighbors and local whistleblowers have decided to take matters into their own hands to protect the area's vulnerable animals.
"We are going to be our own Humane Society for eastern El Paso County, so we don't have to look to organizations that just care about money," says neighbor Jerry Rineck, of Saving Animals in Need Together (SAINT), a new group that is looking to secure funding for a local animal control agency.
He says he first called the Humane Society six months ago to report the animals' owners. All the carcasses were found on properties where James Shugart, Jacquelyn Gray and James and Amy Gargala used to live. Three charges of animal cruelty were eventually filed against Gray, and one against Shugart.
Of the 40 living animals found in the yard, the Humane Society impounded a single, sick canine. Another six dogs were surrendered by Amy Gargala. According to the Humane Society, 12 dogs, five goats, two geese and one duck exactly half of the animals found remain in the possession of the animal owners, who have since moved.
Pat Miller of Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue, along with neighbors and concerned locals, including state Rep.-elect Marsha Looper, took in several animals that they believed needed immediate attention.
But Humane Society executive director Wes Metzler claims the remaining animals were in good shape and that state law precludes him from confiscating healthy animals.
"The llamas were thin. They weren't death-thin," he says.
"People have likened it to leaving children in a similar situation," Humane Society community liaison Ann Davenport says. "But the state treats animals as property. Legally, that is where the difference would come in."
When asked about the organization's argument, Scot Dutcher, chief of the state's Bureau of Animal Protection, said that state law allows local agencies to shelter healthy animals at risk.
"You have to be able to defend what you do in a given situation," he said.
Told, in turn, of the state's response, Metzler maintained his position.
Miller, for her part, says the nonprofit has tried to downplay the case to the public.
"You heard Metzler say that there were accusations and innuendos thrown around. He made us out to be a bunch of ignorant plains people. The only accusations and innuendos were eyewitness accounts of the alleged abusers picking a dog up and slamming it against a van or letting a dog hang from a short rope out of a trailer window. Of dogs being shot at with BB guns. Things like that ... It reeks of covering their butts."
Because Calhan is located outside of the Humane Society's jurisdiction, the organization is not required to answer citizen requests for help. Only an emergency call from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office can trigger a response from the agency, which receives $25,000 annually to cover the "out of resolution area," or most of eastern El Paso County. In 2006, the Humane Society investigated 133 cases almost all of which were animal welfare incidents in the region. Fifty animal cruelty charges have been levied in the zone this year.
"There is not coverage out there," says Looper, who, with SAINT's help, has petitioned to use the county's fairgrounds as an emergency animal shelter. "We need to figure out how to get coverage."