Much ink and reel has been given over the past week to the seizure of The Haven Friends for Live, a no-kill rescue by the ASPCA. Our televisions, social media and newspapers have been filled with photos of animals in makeshift cages. Thousands of words have been written regarding the plight of the animals at the shelter and about the 15 graves of animals that died while in the care of organization. But few, if any, have told the total story of the shelter. And, this is where I would like to weigh in.
I first met Linden Spear in the spring of 1998. I had recently moved to Fayetteville to be with my then-boyfriend, now husband, and was working as a reporter at Up & Coming Weekly. Spear invited me out to her relatively new shelter to talk about the plight of animals in our community. At the time, she was lobbying to have the county pass a law requiring anyone who wasn’t a breeder to have his or her pets spayed or neutered. She was also trying to bring attention to the way the county was euthanizing its unwanted animals. Instead of using the gas chamber at the facility, the shelter was shooting animals. Spear was horrified.
On my first visit to the county pound with Spear, she rescued two or three dogs. Our next stop was at a local vets office, where the vet donated his service to spay or neuter her rescues. We dropped the newest animals off and picked up several cats and a few dogs. While there, Spear talked about the irresponsibility of pet owners who allow their animals to breed uncontrolled. She talked about not only how it added to the local animal population, but also hurt the animal’s health in the long run.
We talked about the way that feral cats were a problem in the community because of the quick rate of cat reproduction and the number of cats that are allowed to breed unchecked. Also on her mind that day was the practice of some military family’s that got pets, but when they received orders to a new place, they simply left the pets in their old neighborhoods. This was something that hit home with me, as I had recently taken in a beautiful cat that we lovingly called Big Kitty. He became a beloved pet and member of our family.
Spear also talked about the plans she had for her shelter. She was writing grants, seeking support not only from the local community but also nationally. She was building relationships with stores that would give her damaged bags of pet food. She was reaching out to non-profits to get volunteers out to help her build kennels and do the never-ending work at the shelter.
Also on her mind were the folks who would wait until the pound, local veterinarian’s office and her shelter closed. They would quietly slip up to these places at night and throw boxes of kittens over the fence or tie pets to the gates. These were the people who made her angry.
At the time, Spear had the resources and volunteers to keep it all together. But as the problem of abandoned animals grew, she became overwhelmed. Where she is now is not where she started, and it definitely is not the vision she had for her shelter. Some call Spear a hoarder and some, who have not followed her journey, call her cruel. But that’s not the case. Spear has an absolute love and passion for animals. The thought of killing animals broke her heart. But she couldn’t save them all and she surely could not keep up with the sheer number of animals that wound up at her farm.
Linden Spear is a woman whose passion exceeded her ability to meet the demand. I believe that she simply became overwhelmed by the war she waged for more than two decades. She is not the demon that some would portray her to be, and perhaps that is the story I wanted to tell today. When Linden Spear started her journey at The Haven, she had a clear plan. Unfortunately, the problem was much bigger than her, and, if the truth is told, we, as
a community are as much at fault as she is.