Now that the last of the 49 chinchillas has now left her facility, HAWS Executive Director Lynn Olenik has another concern that has left her uneasy.
For nearly a year, the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County played custodian of chinchillas that were previously housed in an uninhabitable home in Waukesha, an incident that brought about animal and child neglect charges.
However, because a judge ruled last month that the animal shelter couldn't adopt out those remaining chinchillas — that responsibility was given to the animals' previous owners — it made Olenik further realize that there are "gaps" and "gray areas" in Wisconsin's laws on animal hoarding cases and how to handle them.
"This situation exposed them," Olenik said. "We had hoped for the opportunity to adopt out the remaining chinchillas, but the owners were allowed to take responsibility and place them as they chose. They declined our offer to assist with the placement of the animals."
In announcing on Wednesday, Feb. 17, that the chinchillas were no longer in HAWS' care, Olenik said she was told the chinchillas will be sold to breeders out of state.
"I am concerned that they are going to breeding facilities and not to pet homes," said Olenik, adding she realizes some breeding facilities are better than others.
HAWS had been acting as the holding facility since more than 300 chinchillas were seized on March 29, 2015, from the home of Garrett and Tricia Rees on Waukesha's northeast side.
However, despite caring and treating for the animals, which significantly stretched its resources, HAWS couldn't begin adopting the animals out until the city reached a resolution with the owners. That process took about two months.
HAWS was finally allowed to adopt out 270 of the chinchillas in May 2015, but 49 of the animals remained at the shelter as part of the ongoing legal action. As part of an agreement, the Reeses paid $450 a month to HAWS in exchange for the right to house the chinchillas.
"The decision as to which agency or organization held overall legal jurisdiction in the case, and then coming to a timely resolution of the case, were both very difficult situations," Olenik said.
Olenik said HAWS was only able to serve as a housing and care facility, and is without legal authority in such cases.
"Hoarding cases and these types of animal neglect situations are not going away," Olenik said. "We ask that the citizens of our community advocate all levels of government for clearer, specific animal cruelty legislation — and demand tougher penalties for those who commit animal abuse and neglect.
"We thank all those who supported HAWS and our efforts while we handled this challenging situation."
Reeses' legal proceedings
Garrett and Tricia Rees were charged with three child neglect offenses and another two counts in the mistreatment of the tiny animals, all misdemeanors, after police and fire department authorities found the chinchillas during a well-being check inside the home at 2208 Melody Lane.
Officials found chinchillas housed in the living room and dining room, while 25 deceased chinchillas were located in the garage and inside a chest freezer in the basement.
Garrett and Tricia's three children also lived in the home. The youngest child was in the home at the time of the well-being check. They kids, along with the chinchillas, were all removed after the fire department deemed the air was unsafe to breathe due to the ammonia levels inside.
The Reeses pleaded no contest to one count of child neglect and one count of not providing proper animal shelter last month and were found guilty of both offenses by Judge Michael Aprahamian. He stayed a sentence of 15 months in jail for both of them in favor of two years of probation.
Conditions of that probation include 100 hours of community service directed at helping animals, mandatory parenting classes and a prohibition on owning chinchillas or any other pets, other than the two cats they had before they were charged.