The Hostetler Situation

WARNING: Some of the content of this article is disturbing. Reader discretion advised.

The unwanted pet problem is huge. It is not just dogs, but for this article we will focus on the canines. Shelters, rescues, and pet foster homes all over the nation are filled with unwanted dogs. Often dogs are shipped from state to state as shelters overfill. Many more are euthanized for no reason other than no one adopted them. This is not a single factor problem, though a huge contributor is the puppy mill.

What Is A Puppy Mill?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website states “Puppy mills are large-scale commercial dog breeding operations where profit is placed above the well-being of animals. Bred without consideration of genetic quality, this produces generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects.” Puppy mill operators will sometimes sell their pups out of the back of a car, or in front of a store. They may claim it was an accidental litter and will use the funds to spay and neuter their dogs. Puppy mill properties are likely to be hidden and out of sight, but sometimes neighbors pick up on the signs; sometimes the police are called, but conditions have to be right in order for any justice to be done.

In May 2017 there was such a case on a property just southwest of Deer Park.

The Hostetler Situation

Though technically in Stevens County, the property was very near to Deer Park. Puppies produced from this mill likely ended up going to homes throughout Spokane and Stevens county; perhaps some even ended up in Deer Park itself.

Thomas “Rusty” and Teresa Marie Hostetler lived in the area for over 14 years. During that time they became well known to their neighbors and the Stevens County Sheriff. The couple had many complaints against them and multiple visits from deputies.

“Every time we went out the dogs appeared to be healthy and had access to food, shelter and water,” said Mike Berry, former Stevens County deputy and current Candidate for Stevens County Sheriff. It was suggested deputies may have been called out at night which made it difficult for them to see the condition of the property and the animals. Persistence paid off, though, as the Sheriff’s office was convinced to return to the property yet again.

“It is my understanding that a complaint was made due to a deputy’s lack of proper response, and Sheriff Allen directed a different deputy to go back and take a look at the situation again,“ said Brad Manke, current Steven’s County deputy and Candidate for Stevens County Sheriff. The deputy that went back out to the Hostetler property was Deputy Jessica Garza. Deputy Garza was able to see the conditions the animals were kept in and this proved to be enough for the sheriff to ask the owners to surrender their animals. At first the Hostetlers agreed, but it was found soon after that they were hiding animals, which made it necessary to gain a search warrant. Deputies were met with resistance when they returned with the warrant; Thomas Hostetler came at them with his hand on a gun that was in his belt. He didn’t draw the weapon, but did lead deputies on a chase through the property, but quickly gave up. Soon after the commotion the deputies had access to the whole property. It was at this point they all realized what a big problem this really was.

Taking Action

Once the Stevens County Sheriff had the search warrant in hand and could finally take action, what they found was more horrible than anyone had imagined.

Over 40 dogs were on the property. Most were on short chains or in small pens, sometimes two or more to a pen. The animals were forced to eat, drink, and sleep in their own filth and suffered urine burns on their paws, open wounds, and old collars imbedded into their necks. They were all infested with multiple types of worms, and frightened of the people who were trying to save them.

The deputies couldn’t handle this problem on their own so they called on local dog rescue from Spokane County, Rescue4All. Humane Evacuation Animal Rescue Team (HEART) was also immediately involved.

Jamie McAtee of Rescue4All said that “Rescuing those 42 animals from the hell they endured for years…was one of the most exhausting and all consuming things our small, volunteer foster home based rescue had ever done.”

The dogs had to be freed from their various chains and pens. Ms. McAtee sings the praises of three deputies who went above and beyond the call of duty: Deputy Jessica Garza, then-Deputy Mike Berry, and Deputy Travis Frizzel.

“Those individual deputies were there with Rescue4All getting those dogs (and a few cats) off chains, out of rusted pens and into crates to get them out of the sheer hell they lived in for years and years. They also helped coordinate the emergency shelter and HEART to be able to assist in this huge undertaking for our organization,” said Ms. McAtee. Mike Berry stated that he personally helped transport over a dozen animals from the Hostetler property to the Clayton Fairgrounds. The managers of the fairgrounds willingly opened its doors to this desperate cause and did not charge for the dogs’ stay. The community also rallied and donated so much dog food and help that there was a surplus.

Once the dogs were safely removed, Thomas and Teresa Hostetler were left to deal with the consequences of the animal abuse that took place on their property. They each pled guilty to three counts of gross misdemeanor animal cruelty. The maximum penalty for these charges would have been a total of three years in jail; instead they each got 60 days, and 304 days probation. There was also a decision that the Hostetlers should pay restitution (over $14,000) for some of the costs incurred for the care of the animals seized.

Much of that cost came directly out of Jamie McAtee’s personal funds as well as Rescue4All, her non-profit, completely volunteer based animal rescue. Ms. McAtee personally housed some of the dogs as evidence for months during the trial. Other dogs were taken by foster homes, as well as multiple humane societies and shelters. All of the animals were treated for their physical ailments as well as their mental and emotional scars. They had to learn how to be loved pets.

Rescue4All has provided pictures and video of the injuries and living conditions of the dogs. A warning: these are disturbing and extremely graphic.

Moving Forward

Posado’s Safe Haven, a non-profit animal rescue organization has given Deputy Jessica Garza honorable mention in “The Bucky Award” for outstanding achievement in law enforcement animal cruelty investigations. The award is $500, to be used to continue to help animals in our county. Debbie Harbin, president of the North Eastern Washington Humane Society, presented this award on behalf of Posado’s Safe Haven. Deputy Garza was a gracious recipient. She played a large role in kick starting the investigation as well as organizing the many facets of the animal rescue; however, Deputy Garza is quick to point out that many hands were involved and pivotal to the success of the operation.

The Law As It Stands

According to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 16.52.310 “A person may not own, possess, control, or otherwise have charge or custody of more than fifty dogs with intact sexual organs over the age of six months at any time.” There are other provisions in the RCW, but they are minimum health requirements and many of them were technically met by the Hostetlers. In theory: If a person owned one male and even 40 females and bred each of those females twice a year (each heat cycle) they could have over 600 puppies in ONE year.

In addition, Mike Berry points out that “It’s near impossible for a single deputy to determine how many dogs are intact (especially females).”

Rescue groups are working extremely hard to rehome unwanted/strays, as well as run spay and neuter clinics to try to control this rejected population. However, while it is still legal for one person to breed 50 dogs at a time, those efforts will be a mere drop in the bucket.

How To Combat Puppy Mills

Animal lovers often want to rescue dogs from hardship, but buying a puppy from a mill is not a safe way to do it. It only encourages the breeder to keep breeding.

If you are looking for a puppy, please find a reputable breeder, or visit your local rescues and shelters.  A trustworthy operation will welcome you to see their animals and their living conditions.

Don’t be in a rush to find a dog, and take time to research breeds and think about the energy and type of dog you want to add to your family.

Path Of Hope is a wonderful rescue that specializes in accepting and sometimes whelping (birthing) unwanted litters, then caring for and raising the puppies until they are old enough to find their forever homes.

Rescue4All, Becky’s Best Buddies, SCRAPS, and the Spokane Humane Society all have adoptable dogs right now.

If you suspect animal abuse call your local Sheriff’s Office or Humane Society

Stevens County

  • Sheriff (509) 684-5296
  • North Eastern Washington Humane Society (509) 563-4040

Spokane County

  • Sheriff (509) 477-2240
  • Spokane Humane Society 509-467-5235

For more information about animal abuse

Sources used for this story include interviews with Jamie McAtee (Rescue4All), as well as Stevens County Sheriff candidates Brad Manke, and Mike Berry.

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