LOWELL, Ind. (STMW) — Lake County Indiana Sheriff’s Department personnel raided a rural Lowell home Friday afternoon, where they found 19 dogs living in feces more than a foot deep while their owner lived inside her car.
Authorities also said they found 15 dead animals wrapped in plastic in a freezer.
Though they wore hazmat suits, chemical masks and knee-high rubber boots, workers were overcome by the stench when they opened the door to the modest frame home on West 245th Avenue, just east of Schneider. Inside they found piles of garbage, overturned furniture and cushions torn to shreds.
Police rescued the animals while the 62-year-old female owner was at work, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Cmdr. Robert Arnold said. Arnold declined to name the owner pending charges of animal cruelty. The department expects the charges will be filed on Monday.
Workers included veterinarian Rachael Jones of Southlane Animal Hospital in Valparaiso, Anne Sterling of the Humane Society of the United States, representatives of the Lake County Fire Chiefs Association and the Lake County Hazmat Team. They gently carried each dog outside, marked each with an identification collar and checked them for any injuries.
They patted and talked to the dogs, who all appeared docile but frightened, and placed them in carriers. They were taken to the sheriff’s Lake County Animal Control Center for evaluation. None appeared to be emaciated, although some looked like they had mange, a worker said.
Police have spent three weeks preparing for the rescue, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said. It came about after neighbors complained of the smell and reported the dogs’ owner appeared to have been living inside her car for at least three years. She bred the dogs inside the house and sold the puppies, Buncich said.
Next-door neighbor Dawn Martin said her children could not play in the yard, and her husband couldn’t grill outside sometimes because of the stench coming from next door.
“I feel bad, but it’s not livable in the house,” Martin said, adding she had brought her neighbor a plate of food one holiday as she sat in her car.
“I’ve never seen a case this bad,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Michelle Weaver, who heads up the Animal Cruelty Task Force, and has worked animal control for eight years.
Weaver said the dogs’ owner would be asked to relinquish the animals so they could be put up for adoption. Weaver said the Lake County Health Department would be called to the house, which appeared to have structural problems.
“It’s uninhabitable,” Weaver said, adding that the Adult Protective Services Bureau would be called to offer services to the owner to address any issues that led to her situation.
Buncich said the rescue was part of a new push in the county to cut down on animal cruelty and neglect.
“This is just the beginning,” Buncich said. “We have other cases in the works that will be vigorously prosecuted.”