Investigation Launched After Grisly Discovery
WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2016 – Animal control officers discovered a grisly scene on Wednesday morning (July 18) at a property near Lake Mathews where almost 40 dogs were left, apparently, to fend for themselves.
They found 11 dead dogs at the property, located a few miles south of Highway 91 and just north of El Sobrante Road.
The dogs presumably died from malnutrition and neglect. Officers also rounded up 27 dogs that were alive, but most were severely emaciated. Some were so weak that officers were forced to carry the dogs out to their trucks.
All the dogs were pit bulls and there was evidence on scene that suggested the owner of the dogs was a one-time breeder. The property does not have a kennel permit on file with Riverside County, a requirement anytime someone has more than four dogs at one property.
Most of the dogs were inside the house, a ranch-style home with three Hacienda-style archways near the front door. The almost three-acre property included appliances, tires, scrap piles and seven vehicles, some with their engines open in a state of disrepair.
The investigation was sparked on Tuesday (July 17). Riverside County Animal Services dispatched an officer to the property after it had received an anonymous tip on Tuesday. The tipster described a strong stench coming from the property. Officer Will Luna arrived and confirmed that a strong odor was coming from the property, but could not enter the fenced lot without a search warrant. He was not able to make contact with anyone inside the property, so he posted an official notice on the property for the owner to contact Riverside County Animal Services.
Officer Luna returned the next day after the owner failed to contact him. He drove around to the back of the property, without entering it, where he could legally observe several pit bulls in kennels, some appearing to be emaciated and in need of immediate attention.
Officer Luna also reported smelling an odor that he said he believed was likely dead animals. At that point, Officer Luna contacted the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for assistance. Due to the observation of the emaciated dogs, combined with the stench, Officer Luna said he believed the circumstances were exigent, giving him the authority to enter the property.
Officer Luna found additional kennel pens in the back, covered from public view with a large, vinyl event-style tarp. Some of the dogs inside that area were dead. Other dead dogs were found inside the home.
Officer Luna said he realized immediately that he needed backup to properly process the scene. Additional animal control officers arrived to help count and round up the animals, including the dead ones.
“The smell of death was everywhere,” said Chris Mayer, the department’s interim commander of the Field Services Division. “It was one of the worse cases of abuse I’ve seen in my career.”
The home itself was a dark and messy maze of trash, wrecked furniture and loose dogs. Officers had to use flashlights in some areas to avoid stumbling. In one hallway, a dead dog blocked their path.
Some areas had been boarded up to segregate some of the dogs. A random dog was placed in a kennel. Another was dead inside a makeshift dog run, walled off with wood boards. Bedrooms were filled with piles of dried animal waste, puddles of urine and garbage. Some walls had holes, as if the dogs, through boredom, started tearing the house apart, bit by bit.
Officers loaded up all the alive dogs – 27 in total – and transported them to the county’s San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus in San Jacinto. There, Veterinary Services team members examined and treated all the dogs. The treatment plans included some being placed on fluids to assist those suffering from dehydration.
Officer Luna, an employee with Riverside County Animal Services for more than a dozen years, held back tears while comforting one dog at the San Jacinto facility.
“No animal should be treated with such disregard,” Luna said. “This was shameful.”
The dogs are being held in protective custody, pending a resolution through the court system. If and when the county can release the dogs, the department will seek assistance with its rescue group partner organizations and from individual adopters.
Animal Services is pursuing an animal cruelty case and will take its findings soon to the District Attorney’s office.