CHESTERTON, Ind. (STMW) — Northwest Indiana officials seized 55 dogs from a home where they were malnourished and neglected, and three responders were bitten by the animals in the process Wednesday.

Officials from Porter County Animal Control, the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and Portage Animal Control arrived at the home at 190 E. County Road 1400N near Chesterton at 8 a.m. to begin taking the dogs, which they said are disease-ridden and neglected, the Post-Tribune is reporting.

“I tried to do the right thing by just not giving them up or throwing them away,” Donna Montoya said, crying. She admitted she’s been charged with animal neglect before, but the charge was dropped. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I guess I wasn’t.”

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Montoya, who has not been charged, will face multiple counts of cruelty to animals, a Class A misdemeanor; property owner George Mitchell, who also lives at the residence and is reportedly her boyfriend, also could face charges.

Sheriff’s evidence technician Roger Bowles was bitten deeply on the left hand by one of the dogs, and was taken by a Porter hospital ambulance for medical attention. Under Indiana Code, that could bring even stiffer charges against Montoya.

Also bitten were Greg Nemeth, an animal control officer; and a volunteer with the Porter County Animal Shelter. Bowles and Nemeth required stitches and will receive antibiotics and shots against rabies; information on the shelter volunteer was not immediately available.

According to an affidavit for the search warrant, animal control officials came to the house Nov. 18 after a complaint from neighbors about dog waste leaking into the water table was forwarded to them from the Porter County Health Department.

On that visit, as well as on a follow-up visit on Jan. 4, officers observed the dogs — there were 30 in the yard and Montoya said another 20 were inside — drinking water contaminated with urine and feces, no food or potable water, and animals fighting with one another. Some had scars.

During the visit last week, Montoya surrendered seven puppies, which were infested with fleas and found to be carrying the lethal canine parvovirus. Montoya has admitted the animals were not vaccinated; that is a violation of state law.

The raid was originally scheduled to take place in mid-December but was put off until appropriate arrangements could be made for the dogs.

The dogs were taken to several locations; officials, who spent eight hours on the scene, are not disclosing where those are.

The Health Department will determine whether the home is habitable, said environmental health specialist Dan Boyd. Montoya would then have the opportunity to correct any concerns.

Officers eventually made their way into the home, wearing masks coated with Vicks VapoRub to cut the smell. Before he was bitten, Bowles said he made it into the first room of the two-story house and the smell “will take your breath away.”

In his 12 years with the Sheriff’s Department, Bowles said he has never seen an apparent case of animal hoarding of this magnitude.

Wearing a bright pink sweatshirt and shorts, Montoya, 50, tried to move the dogs along. Mitchell used a rake to help.

Montoya said she’s lived at the residence for six years, and Mitchell has lived there since 1986. The dogs are Rottweiler/chow/Labrador retriever mixes, she said, adding she worked with the previous staff at the Porter County Animal Shelter to try to control their numbers.

She would surrender the puppies and, when there was room, the shelter would take three dogs at time. The shelter also was working with Montoya on having the animals spayed and neutered, though that stopped about a year ago.

“I bathe them regularly and they eat well, better than we do,” she said, adding she goes through 150 pounds of dog food a day.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)