RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The director of Riverside County Animal Services said he plans to seek animal cruelty charges against the owner of 61 Shetland sheepdogs that were impounded after a house fire displaced them near Riverside last Sunday.
The dogs were recovered after an attic fire damaged a single-story home on Pick Place in the Woodcrest neighborhood south of Riverside. Three people were also burned out of the home.
According to a news release, the owner of the dogs, Ginny Dennis, surrendered ownership to animal services Sunday afternoon and veterinarians began the long process of examining each one of them.
When the dogs were first found on the property, they appeared to be in excellent condition with good coats and no behavioral issues, according to John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Animal Services.
But after veterinarians had a chance to examine the shelties in-depth, Chief Veterinarian Dr. Allan Drusys said the dogs showed signs of years of neglect and almost every one of them had poor dental hygiene.
"We believe the dogs were never cared for in a manner consistent with proper animal husbandry," Dr. Drusys said. "All dogs require a proper level of dental hygiene, similar to us. There was a complete lack of oral hygiene provided to these animals. In some cases there was more tartar than teeth in their mouths. The condition of the mouths was a direct reflection of complete lack of care the owner provided. Basically these dogs were fed, and nothing else was done for them."
Directory Robert Miller said almost every one of the shelties was tick-infested, matted and had flea infestations. None of them appeared to have been bathed or groomed regularly, if at all.
"The animals were living in filth," Miller said. "Essentially, our plan is to seek animal cruelty based on her lack of providing proper veterinary care for these animals. A pet owner must provide consistent veterinary care for their animals."
Employees and volunteers with Riverside County Animal Services washed and groomed dozens of the Shetland sheepdogs to prepare them for adoption. On Friday, they began calling back more than 100 people who expressed interest, according to officials.
Miller said the department reserves the right to do a yard check, or inspection of a potential adopter's property, as a contingency to adoption.
Adoptions will likely happen sometime next week. Some people have already placed a 'hold' on the dog they wish to adopt.
Anyone still interested in adopting can send an email to Riverside County Animal Services: firstname.lastname@example.org. They ask you to please not call their offices.
The department is concerned that some of the would-be adopters are actually friends of the dogs' former owner and are going to attempt to somehow get the dogs back to her.
"We're going to do everything to ensure these dogs are going to loving families and not end up back in the possession of someone we do not believe is capable of caring for animals in a proper manner," Miller said.
Volunteers from the American Shetland Sheepdog Association, Southland Shelties Rescue Inc., Sheltie Rescue Alternative, the Shetland Sheepdog Club of Southern California and the Santiago Shetland Sheepdog Club came to the aid of the dogs to clean them up for their new homes.