MALHEUR COUNTY, Oregon -- A welfare check just outside Weiser in Washington County turned into a heartbreaking discovery last week.
Now an animal shelter south of Ontario, Ore., is struggling and overcrowded as they try to care for 43 new dogs - dogs that were neglected, unkept and living in terrible conditions.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office found these dogs living in a home that was basically serving as their kennel. Just a day or two before, Ani-Care Animal Shelter agreed to make room and take them in.
"They've just not been handled, they've not been played with. They haven't seen people in and out. So it's new, it's scary," Ani-Care Animal Shelter President Amanda Grosdidier said.
When they got the call, the shelter knew they had to help.
"We couldn't say no. That's just not the kind of people that we are," Grosdidier added.
Originally told they would be rescuing around 25 dogs from unlivable conditions, they came across more when they got the house.
"There was dogs everywhere."
Pregnant moms and newborn puppies were locked away in bedrooms, closets; some dogs were tucked away behind the oven, others hiding behind couches. They found more than 35 dogs inside the house and in the yard.
"We brought all the crates we had, all the crates the vet had, and we started putting three, four, five dogs into little crates," Grosdidier said.
One dog gave birth before they got to the shelter, bringing the total to 43 dogs.
"Most of them are Yorkies," Grosdidier told KTVB. "They all range between three days old and 15 [years old]."
Scottish Terriers, a black Labrador, Chesapeake mix, coyote mix, Dachshund, and Pomeranian are among the rescues.
Grosdidier says, shockingly, none of them were starved but most weren't fixed and hadn't seen a vet. "They are healthy. They were not groomed and they stunk and they were covered in poop and all that stuff but none of them were skinny."
Law enforcement originally went to the home outside Weiser to do a welfare check on an elderly man after his son in California became worried. When they went back out to the house last week, not only did deputies find the man's living conditions deplorable, but they also found a case of animal hoarding.
"There was urine and feces all over the floor... stunk," Washington County Sheriff Matt Thomas said, "very poor living conditions for the dogs and especially the humans inside the house."
"There probably isn't an inch of that floor that has never been touched with feces of some sort or urine. It was bad," Grosdidier added. "It burned your lungs when you breathed. You can't prepare for that."
The Washington County Sheriff's Office is now paying Ani-Care $15 per day per dog until the owner - the elderly man's wife - gives up ownership, or until the court orders her to do so.
"This isn't something new for her," Sheriff Thomas told KTVB. "I think there's a very good chance we can get her through the courts to lose ownership of the animals."
In the meantime, as they add makeshift pins and kennels to accommodate the influx, the shelter is asking for help: they are in need of dog food, volunteers, an electrician to fix the air conditioner and donations.
But regardless of resources, the shelter tells us they are determined to take care of these dogs and the nearly 70 other dogs who call Ani-Care home.
"It was heartbreaking when you walk in, but that means nothing after the fact that you actually get to take them," Grosdidier said. "It was empowering. You got to change the lives of 43 animals, and there's nothing better in the world than that."
The sheriff's office says they asked the Idaho Humane Society to take the dogs first, but the shelter wouldn't get involved until ownership was relinquished. The dogs cannot be adopted until the ownership situation is taken care of.
Officers are also working with the county prosecutor to figure out charges and say they expect two separate cases to play out in court: an animal neglect and cruelty case and an elderly neglect case.
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