A judge ordered a mental evaluation Wednesday for a Belvedere woman who lived with 53 dogs and nine cats in a broken-down, feces-ridden home.
Grace Harris Whaley, 58, showed up to answer criminal charges related to her treatment of the animals but instead was escorted by a sheriff's deputy to the Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center for a daylong assessment. The charges will be addressed after the judge receives results of the evaluation.
"I know you have in your mind that everybody in the world wants to harm you. Our concern is that you are capable of going through these proceedings," Aiken County Magistrate Judge Rodger Edmonds told the frail woman, who is disabled and is receiving treatment for breast cancer.
Four supporters accompanied Ms. Whaley to the hearing. Also there were by four animal control workers, a county official and two neighbors who had petitioned the county to address barking dogs and an overwhelming stench.
County officials say they obtained a search warrant for the house on Audubon Circle, discovered the animals living in wretched conditions and seized them. Most of the animals were found to be diseased and were euthanized. Only seven dogs, one cat and two birds were saved.
In addition, Judge Edmonds declared Ms. Whaley's home uninhabitable and ordered her not to live there.
Ms. Whaley is charged with two misdemeanor offenses: ill treatment of animals and keeping domesticated animals in unsanitary conditions.
Ms. Whaley told the judge Wednesday that county building inspector Alton Johnson had agreed to find help to clean up the home.
"It's not as bad as it seems," she said. "It just needs some work."
The United Way apparently has agreed to repair the bathroom and get it back to standard, according to Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian. The home first must be cleaned, he said.
Animal Control Supervisor Shirley Harden said the house is infested with so much animal feces that her employees had to destroy their boots after going inside. She said there is no working heater or air conditioner to ventilate the home.
Until the house is repaired, Judge Edmonds said, he will allow Ms. Whaley inside the home only to clean. She was expected to be released from the mental health center Wednesday night and is staying with a friend in Augusta.
After the hearing, Robert Thompson, of Belvedere, defended Ms. Whaley.
"The only thing that lady is guilty of is just loving animals," he said. "It just got out of hand because she had breast cancer. She couldn't handle it."
Mr. Thompson frequently helped Ms. Whaley with repairs on her home, but his own personal problems kept him away for the past three months. He said her house was not as bad as people described.
"The house was like any animal shelter you go into. It smelled like animals, and it smelled like disinfectant and cleaner," he said.
There were only about 15 dogs in the house when he last visited, Mr. Thompson said. He said he knew Ms. Whaley liked to pick up stray animals despite her cancer problems.
He said he begged others to help her.
"Nobody wants to help," he said. "The neighbors would rather sign a petition than put a wrench on a pipe or haul a truck off that won't run anymore. So, what can you say?"
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.