Nearly 300 dogs are recovering and will soon need homes following what authorities in New Jersey are calling “the worst hoarding case that we've ever experienced.”
Authorities investigating the Howell Township home Friday were told by the homeowners to expect about 80 dogs inside. By the time they had finished clearing out the home, however, at least 276 small dogs -- including Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers and pugs -- were recovered, officials there said.
“Ironically ... most of the animals appear to be in fair condition,” the Monmouth County SPCA's chief law enforcement officer, Ross Licitra, said at a press conference.
That was a surprise, he said, because of the horrors found inside the house.
Officials found large amounts of feces and urine and said that some dogs were giving birth as the house was being cleared out. Some dogs were even found inside the walls, the Asbury Park Press reported.
First responders wore hazmat suits as they carried the animals out of the residence. Some dogs were given oxygen masks to help them breathe.
Licitra said firefighters planned to use thermal imaging equipment to search for any animals that may have crawled into hard-to-reach parts of the home.
“It's been quite an overwhelming situation,” he said. “If you can imagine 100-200 animals living inside of a home, that are allowed to run free, it's deplorable."
One of the two homeowners, speaking outside the house, told an Asbury Park Press reporter “we’re not bad people.”
“I’m exhausted, I can’t even think,” said Joseph Hendricks, who reportedly lived in the house with Charlene Hendricks.
Asked how it happened, he replied: “It’s more than you think.”
According to the Asbury Park Press, the homeowners told authorities that it all started with eight dogs three years ago. Apparently they weren't fixed, and the situation spiraled out of control from there.
Licitra said the couple is being “extremely cooperative.” He added that in most animal hoarding cases, the owners don’t mean to be cruel but lose control.
That doesn't mean they'll escape criminal charges, however.
As Licitra put it: "There's going to be an enormous amount of charges."
Licitra said that all of the dogs will be in need of foster homes before being put up for adoption.
Until that happens, the Monmouth County SPCA is asking for donations. It also notes on its website that it already has “PLENTY of dogs and cats waiting patiently at our shelter for their homes!”