It’s been a wild summer out here in Phippsburg, between family visits and home renovations that I was pretty sure would never, ever end (the home reno, not the family visits). I’m very pleased to announce that, despite the fervent desire to just go to the beach all day and forget about the world, I did manage to publish the third book in my Flint K-9 Search and Rescue series, The Redemption Game. It took ages to write this one, but now that it’s out (it was released on August 20), I’m pretty pleased with the result.
The Redemption Game tells the story of an animal hoarder in Midcoast Maine who is murdered, and whose son – a man in his forties with cognitive challenges – goes missing on the heels of her death. Research for this one had to do largely with the issue of animal hoarding, which has been on the rise over the past decade. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, up to a quarter of a million animals in the U.S. alone suffer at the hands of animal hoarders; it is the most serious threat facing companion animals in the country.
Laws to deal with animal hoarders vary from county to county and state to state, and recidivism for the crime is a staggering 100% – in every case, if given the opportunity (and even when not given the opportunity) animal hoarders will take in more animals as soon as they get the chance. It’s hard for most of us to understand how this can possibly happen – animal hoarders are found living in unimaginable conditions, with both their animals and themselves suffering from physical ailments that include malnutrition, parasites, skin conditions, and breathing problems as a result of poor ventilation and the accumulation of feces, urine, feathers, or pet dander/hair.
This is an issue that has proven challenging for law enforcement and animal welfare organizations alike. Hoarding Disorder was added to the most recent update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), with the following definition: Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. It is unclear whether animal hoarding actually falls under this diagnosis, however, because of this key aspect:
The hoarding is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in major neurocognitive disorder, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder).
In a significant number of cases, anxiety, depression, and attachment disorder play roles in the hoarders’ accumulation of animals. Nancy Davis, the animal hoarder in The Redemption Game, was at one time a hard-working, devoted member of the animal rescue community. As of 2010, the ASPCA reported that a staggering 25% of new animal hoarding cases involved animal rescuers. This includes individuals who would simply take the money raised ostensibly for animal care and use it for their own purposes instead, essentially just warehousing animals until the authorities got involved, but the majority of cases involved those who genuinely cared about the animals and at some point became overwhelmed, lost perspective, and were unable to get the help the needed to care for their charges properly.
In The Redemption Game, Nancy is actually based on a woman I met when doing animal rescue out in Oregon. Her trailer in Molalla served as the foster home for a multitude of cats and dogs through a local, otherwise reputable nonprofit animal rescue in the area. Dogs were busting out the seams of the trailer, and I never actually went inside but got the impression from my rescue partner at the time that things were dire. Still, the woman was articulate and appeared clear-headed, and she always had a date for when things would get better (“They’ll be taking a bus-load of the little dogs up to Washington for an adoption day next weekend,” or “We just got a load from California; these guys will be gone within a week.”), so for years nothing was done – despite the fact that many (including my rescue partner and I) reported the conditions and tried to intervene.
By the time we meet The Redemption Game‘s Nancy Davis, the authorities have finally gotten everything in place to confiscate the animals and shut Nancy down…only to find in the morning that Nancy is dead, a house-load of her animals have gone rogue, and her autistic son is likewise nowhere to be found. Things are complicated that much further when someone discovers a batch of kittens in the basement along with another, more grim find: human remains.
Unlike too many real-life animal hoarding cases, those rescued in The Redemption Game have a happy ending. The cast in this one includes a Newfoundland named Cody, a burly pit bull called Reaver, and the heroic tomcat Cash and his brood of adopted kittens. The story takes place in Midcoast Maine, which meant I was able to include a whole slew of my very favorite people from some of my very favorite places: Jack Juarez and Jamie Flint walk the Rockland breakwater, and the clue that ultimately unravels the mystery comes courtesy of the best pet boutique on the planet, the Loyal Biscuit.
The Redemption Game is on sale now, if you’d like to learn more or pick up a copy of your own. I have readings and signings coming up over the next few weeks, and am so happy to be back here at Maine Crime Writers to tell you all about them!
Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. To learn more, visit http://www.jenblood.com.