AIKEN - Operating on an hour's sleep, Shirley Harden began again Saturday to try to make sense out of the chaos at the Aiken County Animal Shelter.
Working with a veterinarian, the chief enforcement officer for the county's animal services will have to decide which of 184 dogs are healthy enough to live - and which must be destroyed.
The Wire Road shelter's population exploded Friday night after a raid of a trailer home on the 1100 block of Union Hill Road in Salley. Animal Control authorities said the home was a puppy mill and charged resident Kathleen Marie Humes with keeping the home and property in unsanitary conditions.
Officers videotaped and photographed the home, which was full of garbage and covered in animal feces.
In one of the photographs, a sick, mangy Pekingese peers out from beneath a mattress leaning against a wall.
Various breeds of dogs for sale were found roaming or in cages on the property. Some suffered from tremors, malnutrition and skin diseases.
"It's hard for us to even get organized and decide what to do first," Mrs. Harden said. "It has been heart-wrenching. I've fallen apart at least three times today. No one understands what this is like for us. The magnitude is just terrific."
About three-fourths of the dogs now have a new home at the shelter, at least temporarily, as they await a March 22 court date and law enforcement officers consider adding more charges.
A fourth of the dogs likely will have to be put to sleep, according to Dr. Kim Smart, the attending veterinarian.
Her notes and the remaining dogs will be kept as evidence until Summary Court Judge Donna Williamson decides whether the healthy ones should be returned to Ms. Humes or adopted.
While some of the confiscated dogs barked Saturday as they were checked and individual numbers were written with a blue marker inside their ears, many appeared to be silenced by their ill health.
An apricot poodle, Pickles, was one of the worst off and reportedly was Ms. Humes' favorite. The dog was hyperactive, and as it ran, it shook and couldn't keep its balance. Dr. Smart theorized the dog had distemper and suffered from a neurological disease.
Saturday's initial inspections were superficial, meant to root out the worst cases first. Dr. Smart said she would do more in-depth checks in the days to come.
She said the whole process might take a week or more.
Meanwhile, the shelter will be over capacity. Normally housing half of the 50 to 60 dogs and 25 to 30 cats it can hold, the facility held more than 200 dogs in addition to other animals Saturday. Some of the newcomers were even sharing space in the cat room.
But Dr. Smart said the case isn't the worst she has seen.
"We had one this bad five years ago," she said. "It was the Hrcsko residence, the one they just got again."
She was referring to cruelty charges against Jean Hrcsko, who was charged in 1994 with hoarding 109 dogs on her property. Mrs. Hrcsko, who lives in Aiken near Graniteville, was charged again this year with having 32 dogs and nine cats in unsanitary conditions on her property.
She and her daughter, Nancy Hrcsko, recently were banned by a judge from ever owning pets again.
Animal Control officials said the confiscation of Ms. Humes' dogs was preceded by a call from the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The department was acting on a tip that Ms. Humes' 17-year-old mentally disabled child was living in unfit conditions. The child was removed from the home.
Aiken County officials said Ms. Humes has been charged with keeping animals in unsanitary conditions at least twice before, once in Lexington County.
They also produced a copy of a letter from the American Kennel Club that prompted the inspection of the residence Ms. Humes kept in Lexington County.
"Rodent/insect infestation was apparent," the Nov. 30, 2000, letter reads. "Many of the dogs were extremely matted and malnourished. Food and water containers appeared filthy."
Ms. Humes reportedly shares her Salley home with a common-law husband, John Livingston, who was not charged Friday. Their phone number is unlisted, and Ms. Humes could not be reached for comment Saturday.
With the future of Ms. Humes' healthy dogs still uncertain, people were already asking Saturday about how to adopt or donate.
Mrs. Harden said the public can do a number of things to help the animal shelter. The biggest need is for kennels - preferably 6 feet by 8 feet - and other items that will shelter and separate the dogs.
Food for small dogs, bowls and other necessities are also welcomed, she said.
To donate money, checks should be made out to Aiken County Animal Services and mailed to 411 Wire Road, Aiken, SC 29801.
Mrs. Harden said the shelter will begin taking donations at 9 a.m. Monday and can be reached at (803) 642-1537.
Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|HOW TO HELP|
Aiken County Animal services seeks donated items, especially kennels. The shelter, at 411 Wire Road, can be reached at (803) 642-1537.