Animal hoarder to get psychiatric evaluation
Aug 16, 2007
Matthew Santoni, The Examiner
Harford County - Donna Bell couldn’t turn away desperate animals.
So she took them in and kept taking them in, until she had more than 100 cats and dogs sick and dying in her two adjacent Harford County homes.
A judge on Thursday found Bell, a 60-year-old former operator of an animal rescue organization, not criminally responsible because she has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“There was a disconnect between her good intentions and her ability to say no,” said Leonard Shapiro, Bell’s attorney. “She was afraid that if she didn’t take the animals in, they would die. ... Unfortunately, that’s what happened in the end.”
Bell had been charged with animal cruelty in May 2006 after police responding to complaints of a strong odor emanating from the two houses found 70 dogs, four cats and 44 carcasses, caged and uncaged. Piles of animal waste stood nearly 3 feet deep in places.
District Judge John Dunnigan committed Bell to the care of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and ordered that she be taken to Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville. There, she will stay for at least the next several weeks to undergo further evaluation until the state determines what kind of treatment she needs for OCD, which can manifest itself in hoarding.
“You will be in the hands of the doctors there,” Dunnigan told Bell. “Be sure that you follow everything that they recommend. ... I don’t know what to say, other than what I read was horrific, to say the least.”
Beyond replying, “yes,” Bell did not speak.
Bell’s attorney, Leonard Shapiro, said the case exemplified someone not responsible for crimes because of mental illness.
The plea angered many the Bel Air courtroom. Some shot Bell dirty looks, cursing under their breath and berating Shapiro as he left the court. But others said Bell had suffered already in realizing the harm she had done to the animals she most wanted to save.
“What she did was horrible, but I don’t think she had a choice,” said Dianne Nowicki, who worked with Bell to adopt animals through PetSmart. “I have a lot of warm fuzzies for Donna because she was doing a lot of good in that area before.”
But Debbie Pineda, a former volunteer at the Humane Society of Harford County, called for a stiffer penalty. “I’m pleased that Donna is getting the help she needs, but I believed there should have been some other punishment,” she said.