CALEDONIA — Approximately 90 animals were removed from a no-kill Caledonia animal shelter and two homes Thursday, and the owner faces charges for animal mistreatment, according to Caledonia police.
A stench hung in the air around the Orphan Kanines facility at 1922 Kremer Ave. for much of the day, while inside dozens of dogs yelped at the commotion, still standing on a floor littered with what appeared to be their own excrement.
As of about 8 p.m. Thursday, approximately 65 dogs and one pig were located at the facility, along with numerous cats that were proving difficult to catch and count, said Angela Speed, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Humane Society, which was called in to assist. Alison Kleibor, director of the Racine campus of the WHS, said they had caught eight cats as of 9 p.m.
“The conditions are absolutely deplorable,” said Speed. “The conditions in my experience are similar to a puppy mill.”
Animals were also taken from two homes Thursday. Debra Gray, who was previously named as Orphan Kanines’ manager, is listed as one of the owners of both houses, according to 2013 property tax records.
Six dogs and two cats were found by police at a home the 1000 block of College Avenue, according to Sgt. John Pomeroy of the Racine Police Department.
He said Racine police provided cover while Caledonia police and members of the Racine County District Attorney’s office executed a search warrant on the property at 2:17 p.m., and at least the dogs were taken from the scene to make sure they are vaccinated and documented in compliance with city ordinances.
An additional 11 dogs and one pig were found in a residence in the 4600 block of North Main Street Thursday evening, according to Lt. Gary Larsen of the Caledonia Police Department. “Conditions are absolutely horrendous in the house,” Larsen said, adding that an officer described conditions in the house as worse than the facility.
Police responded Thursday morning to Orphan Kanines for allegations concerning the condition of the facility, said Larsen.
A portion of Kremer Avenue from Highway 32 to Lora Street was closed off most of the day while police worked at the scene.
Several police officers going into Orphan Kanines were dressed in protective jumpsuits with oxygen masks; Larsen said one officer got hives after going inside.
It was unsafe for people to be inside more than 5 minutes, according to ammonia readings, Larsen said. The ammonia was coming from the large amount urine in the shelter.
Later Thursday afternoon, Larsen said the owner of the shelter had been arrested and faced charges for animal neglect. Gray was booked into the Racine County Jail Thursday, according to online records.
Attorney Jerry Delcore, representing the family who owns the property, declined to comment and said the family also did not wish to comment.
Inside the shelter, the floor was covered with feces and urine.
Speed said she also found it concerning that outside in a fenced-in area there were no feces, leading her to believe the animals did not get outside often.
Humane Society’s help
About a dozen Humane Society employees responded to the shelter Thursday, including two veterinarians and a vet technician, according to Speed. They were there to evaluate the animals and then transport them to other facilities, she said.
After an initial assessment, she said, some appeared healthy but others appeared to have respiratory issues and dental issues. She later added that many dogs were also suffering from ear and eye infections, superficial wounds, severely matted fur, and wounds to paws symptomatic of walking around in feces and urine for long periods.
However, she said no animals were found dead or in need of emergency medical attention.
“We hope to save as many as possible, if not all (the animals),” Speed said.
The Humane Society does not euthanize animals because of the length of time it takes to find homes for them or because of space constraints. But they do euthanize animals if they have severe behavior or health problems, she said.
All of the cats should be able to be housed at the Humane Society’s Racine campus, 2706 Chicory Road, she said, as well as many of the dogs. But because of the number of dogs, they are also working with community partners to help house them, and will be taking some dogs to the Humane Society’s facility in Grafton and Milwaukee, she said. They are mostly small dogs, such as types of poodles, pugs, terriers and beagles, Speed said.
She said because the Caledonia incident is a seizure, not a voluntary surrender, none of the animals will be available for adoption until the owner voluntarily gives them up or through a court order.
“The ray of hope is that those dogs are sleeping in safe, comfortable conditions tonight,” Speed said. She thanked the Caledonia police and fire departments for involving the Humane Society so quickly in the incident.
The two pigs will be housed at a private residence, said Caledonia Police Chief Toby Schey.
Orphan Kanines is a nonprofit, no-kill animal rescue, according to the organization’s phone message.
The organization’s website indicates they can house up to approximately 65 dogs; however, according to the shelter’s kennel application filed with the village of Caledonia on March 24, they said they would house no more than 25 animals.
Caledonia police first learned about possible problems from the Caledonia Fire Department, which conducted a routine fire inspection of the facility Wednesday, Larsen said. Caledonia police responded Wednesday but no one was there, he said. Then when they responded Thursday morning, the owner would not allow police inside until they received a search warrant.
There were problems reported in the past, but not to the extent there were now, Larsen said Thursday, and the village was able to work with the shelter.
He said sometimes people want to help animals, but it can get out of control and they can get overwhelmed.
In an effort to make conditions inside the structure safer for rescue crews and authorities, the police department and fire department worked to ventilate the building, and the ammonia could be smelled from across the street.
“It’s unbelievable,” Katie Tatro, 36, of Racine, who owns Katie’s Canine Klubhouse, 5246 Douglas Ave., said about the smell.
Tatro said she has worked with the owner of Orphan Kanines and called the shelter about three or four times to take in stray animals.
“It never appeared to me she was cruel,” Tatro said. But she said she was never allowed to go inside the shelter.
Similarly, Julie Bach, 52, who lives near the shelter in Caledonia, said about five years ago she adopted her dog from the shelter and boarded the dog there several times. But she was never allowed inside by the kennels past the initial entry area because she was told it would upset the dogs, she said.
“It’s crazy,” said Allie McCue, who works at George Webb, 4555 Douglas Ave., which is directly across the street from the facility. She said she sees the owner go in and out nearly every day and has never known there to be any problems. She added she has seen dogs walked on occasion.
The exact number of animals seized by police and the Wisconsin Humane Society in Racine and Caledonia Thursday was reported incorrectly initially. The error has been corrected.