CHANDLER, Ariz. (Scripps News Phoenix/Court TV) — An Arizona woman is in custody after 55 dogs were removed from a home and five deceased puppies were found in a freezer.
April McLaughlin, who runs an animal rescue for dogs with special needs, is charged with dozens of counts of animal cruelty, according to jail records.
Chandler police said a search warrant was obtained for the home after a veterinarian contacted them Friday with additional medical information they did not previously know. Officials said they had been investigating the situation for about two weeks since receiving calls about the rescue.
On September 9, the Arizona Humane Society attempted a welfare check on the animals.
At the home, AHS noticed the smell of urine and feces near the front door and noticed a large cluster of flies near the front door, according to court documents.
On multiple trips to the home, AHS reported the dogs to be in poor health, including potential neurological concerns, open wounds and kennel cough.
“Our challenge at the Humane Society is we’re not peace officers. We have to follow all the guidelines as a regular civilian. If an owner does not allow us on a property, we’d have to respect that,” said Tracey Miller, director of field operations with the Arizona Humane Society. “She would not let us on the property until the 12. (That) was the first time we made entrance.”
According to court documents, a veterinarian advised that some of the dogs needed “more immediate follow up due to the severity of their injuries,” some needed amputations of the legs or the tail, and the majority of the dogs that McLaughlin brings to the clinic are paralyzed in some capacity. Veterinary records were provided to police for additional dogs, including some that were deceased.
Police obtained a search warrant after receiving this information. When officers arrived at the home, the fire department also responded to test the air quality. Firefighters needed to dress in a self-contained breathing apparatus to enter the home due to how poor the air quality was, according to court documents.
Inside the home, court documents say officers found several crates stacked with animals inside who were sitting or laying on puppy pads and towels that were caked with urine and feces. It also appeared that none of the dogs had access to water.
Court documents say all rooms of the home were occupied by dogs.
McLaughlin told investigators that she believed she was at the start of a hoarding problem and had taken on too many dogs, according to court documents.
She also said she had been running the rescue for a year but did not adopt any of the dogs out.
Police were also aware that McLaughlin’s mother lived in the home and potentially was not able to take care of herself.
McLaughlin’s mother was found on the couch in the home and according to court documents, she had moved in with her daughter in 2020 and shortly after suffered a stroke.
Court documents state that McLaughlin has control of her mother’s financials and did not provide a phone for her mother.
Police learned that McLaughlin’s mother sleeps on the couch since the bedrooms are occupied by dogs. Court documents state she had not slept on a bed in three years.
Police also found that there had been insufficient food in the home. Court documents say McLaughlin told investigators that her mother had access to food in the fridge and the freezer and did not believe there was anything wrong with storing food next to the dead animals that were inside the freezer.
The home has since been boarded up and the doors have been bolted, according to court documents.
The animals will be in the care of the Arizona Humane Society for at least 10 days. Miller said the conditions of the dogs range from no issues at all to being in severe condition.
Miller said McLaughlin has the opportunity to ask for a seizure hearing in the city courts within 10 days and a judge will decide if the owner is fit to have the animals back. If McLaughlin does not ask for a seizure hearing, the courts will release the animals to the organization.
This incident remains under investigation.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Phoenix, an E.W. Scripps Company.