It began with the discovery of an animal skull in front of an Apache Junction-area home by a Child Protective Services caseworker and the stench of urine coming from the house. And it led to the discovery of 28 dogs being hoarded without food and water.
Pinal County Animal Care and Control officers confiscated more than two dozen dogs – four that were pregnant – living in filthy conditions after executing a search warrant on Dec. 14 at the home in an unincorporated area north of Apache Junction.
Authorities would not release the name of the person who was in possession of the animals or the address of the property, citing an ongoing investigation, and are sifting through paperwork and records kept on the dogs, which mostly included Chihuahuas and Pomeranians.
Inside the residence, officers found some of the animals being kept in small kennels stacked on top of each other. Many of them were caked with feces and had urine-soaked towels inside.
In a statement issued by Pinal County Animal Care and Control, director Kaye Dickson said, "These animals were being kept in horrible conditions. The kennels had nothing covering them such as a tarp or any other material."
The CPS case worker, who was believed to have been conducting some kind of welfare check at the residence, reported seeing 25-36 dogs on the premises, along with kennels filled with feces. There was no water or food for the animals.
On Wednesday, officers found the kennels with six or more dogs housed in them.
After a discussion with the owner of the home, animal care and control seized all of the animals on the premises, including 13 dogs that were being boarded at the location.
Officers located the boarding clients and safely returned the animals to their owners.
Officers also found numerous record books detailing sales, vaccinations and other documentation pertaining to animals previously on premises. Records for the animals currently being housed by the owner were not up-to-date, authorities said.
"The resident had, at one time, obtained a kennel permit," Dickson said. "The permit lapsed earlier in the year. The permit allowed them to have up to 20 animals on the premises. The owner clearly was not in compliance with the permit and was not providing humane care and proper treatment for the animals, including basic food and water. Some of the statements the pet's owner made to our officers lead us to believe that some of these dogs were being used in a puppy mill breeding operation."
Although the owner of the home has yet to be cited or arrested, the case remains under investigation and review for potential charges, according to the Pinal County Attorney's Office.
No one has been arrested in connection to the incident yet; however, Pinal County officials are continuing to investigate the case to see if any animal cruelty-related charges will be brought against the person who was in posession of the dogs, according to Joe Pyritz, a spokesman for Pinal County.
The dogs seized from the home last week are currently being cared for at Pinal County's Animal Care and Control shelter. The animals will be held as evidence and will not be available for public adoption unless the owner surrenders them or until the case is concluded.
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Correction (Dec. 29, 12:34 p.m.): The original version of this story, appearing online Dec. 28, incorrectly stated that the Pinal County Sheriff's Office was involved in the recovery efforts. Pinal County Animal Care and Control – a separate department under the purview Pinal County Health and Human Services, not PCSO – was responsible for removing the dogs from the Apache Junction-area home. The Tribune regrets the error.