An Arizona woman is facing multiple charges after 55 dogs, many with special needs, were seized from her home, and five deceased puppies were found in her freezer on Saturday.
Police in the city of Chandler, which is near Phoenix, executed a search warrant for the home owned by April McLaughlin after weeks of investigating concerned calls and gathering information from the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) and a veterinarian who saw the dogs.
Officers and firefighters searched the home on Sept. 23. Firefighters needed to dress in a self-contained breathing apparatus to enter the home due to how poor the air quality was, according to court documents.
Inside the home, officers found several crates stacked with animals inside who were sitting or laying on puppy pads and towels that were caked with urine and feces. It also appeared that none of the dogs had access to water, court documents stated.
All of the rooms in the home were occupied by dogs. Court documents also said the majority of the dogs were in need of immediate medical attention and most of them either dragged themselves to get around or shook due to severe neurological issues.
Police also found McLaughlin's mother on the couch in the home and believed she was not able to take care of herself.
According to court documents, she had moved in with her daughter in 2020 and shortly after suffered a stroke.
Court documents stated that McLaughlin has control of her mother's finances and did not provide a phone for her mother.
Police learned that McLaughlin's mother sleeps on the couch since the bedrooms are all occupied by dogs. She had not slept on a bed in three years.
Police also said there was insufficient food in the home. According to court documents, McLaughlin told investigators that her mother had access to food in the fridge and the freezer, and she did not believe there was anything wrong with storing food next to the dead puppies that were inside her freezer.
McLaughlin was taken into custody and was booked for animal neglect and cruelty, according to Chandler Police. She is also facing a charge of vulnerable adult abuse.
Police started to receive calls about McLaughlin and the dogs in her home on Sept. 8. She reportedly ran an animal rescue called Special Needs Animal Welfare League.
On Sept. 9, AHS attempted a welfare check on the animals. They noticed the smell of urine and feces while outside the home and noticed a large cluster of flies near the front door.
On multiple trips to the home, AHS reported the dogs to be in poor health, including potential neurological concerns, open wounds and kennel cough.
"Our challenge at the Humane Society is we're not peace officers. We have to follow all the guidelines as a regular civilian. If an owner does not allow us on a property, we'd have to respect that," Tracey Miller, director of field operations with AHS. "She would not let us on the property until the 12th. [That] was the first time we made entrance."
Scripps News Phoenix spoke to neighbors, who claimed the smell from McLaughlin’s home was so horrible that flies started to come around their homes too.
"I've never smelled anything like that before. The smell was awful, and the sound of the barking dogs; now I know those dogs were in there screaming and crying," said Antonia Martinez.
It wasn’t until police received records from the veterinarian who saw some of McLaughlin’s dogs that they were able to get a search warrant for the home.
According to court documents, the veterinarian advised that some of the dogs needed "more immediate follow up due to the severity of their injuries," some needed amputations of the legs or the tail and the majority of the dogs that McLaughlin brought to the clinic are paralyzed in some capacity.
McLaughlin told investigators that she believed she was at the start of a hoarding problem and had taken on too many dogs, according to court documents.
She also said she had been running her animal rescue for a year, but did not adopt any of the dogs out.
The home has since been boarded up and the doors have been bolted, according to court documents.
The animals will be in the care of AHS for at least 10 days. Miller said the conditions of the dogs range from no issues at all to being in severe condition.
Miller said McLaughlin has the opportunity to ask for a seizure hearing in the city courts within 10 days and a judge will decide if the owner is fit to have the animals back. If McLaughlin does not ask for a seizure hearing, the courts will release the animals to AHS.
The investigation is ongoing.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Phoenix.
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