Thursday, October 17, 2013

Syracuse landlord finds starving dog chained to attic pole for days

NEW YORK -- Landlord Walter Scammell saw signs of a struggle when he found a starving 5-year-old pit bull chained to an attic pole in one of his houses on Friday.

 The female dog, Coco, had ripped off about seven ropes. She'd chewed through aluminum cans and a mattress looking for food.

Coco had broken one of the attic's two windows. She pressed up repeatedly against the other, leaving dozens of pawprints.

"It's heartbreaking -- The dog could see the world but couldn't get out," said Scammell, the owner of two young pomeranians, pointing to the attic window of 2426 E. Genesee St. "She just wanted someone to come rescue her."

Scammell found the dog with no food, no water and visibly protruding ribs. He called SPCA officials, who have been nursing her back to health. He later learned Coco was living on top of more than 30 pounds of excrement buried under the attic's floorboards.

Scammell's former tenant Melani Freeman, 40, has been charged with three counts of animal cruelty -- improper confinement, failure to provide medical care and failure to provide proper sustenance. Freeman is due in Syracuse City Court later this month.

The dog weighed around 40 pounds but should have weighed about 65 pounds, CNY SPCA Executive Director Paul Morgan said Friday. Coco is slowly being brought up to her proper weight.

She is doing "remarkably well" and being fed four times a day, the CNY SPCA said in a Facebook post on Monday.

Scammell said Freeman officially moved out Sept. 30. He did not know she had a dog.

Scammell did not think anything seemed amiss when he began checking out the house on Friday, 11 days after Freeman left.

The fridge had been cleaned out. The stove was meticulously scrubbed. A few personal belongings remained, but that was hardly unusual, according to Scammell.

"Everything looks sparkly clean on the outside," Scammell said, opening the door to a well-manicured bathroom. "This is how we found everything. Looks clean, right?"

He walked to the second floor of the house, which Freeman lived in with a daughter, and opened the door to the attic.

"You getting to start to smell something right now?" he said.

Inside, the stench was overpowering. Dirt was everywhere. All that remained of a child's mattress was its springs. There were a few empty water and food bowls.

Scammell thinks the dog was kept in the attic for months. His assistant Gretchen Clark said she and Scammell removed at least four trash cans full of dog feces. Some of it remained on the surface floorboards where Coco lived.

"They just dug up some insulation and shoved (the excrement) back and forth" underneath the floorboards, he said. "That's what life was like two feet away from that post -- Walking on garbage, sleeping on garbage, peeing on garbage."

Scammell's girlfriend Carole Fisher was with him in the house Friday. Fisher said she found half-eaten water bottles and chewed cans of dog food. Dozens of expired candles littered the floor along with Glade and Febreeze cans and used incense.

The attic sits above the house's main bedroom, the ceiling of which is now soaked in urine, according to Fischer. Fischer said she spent over an hour just picking up excrement from beneath the floorboards with a gloved hand before she left in tears.

"I had to leave," Fisher said. "I was crying for that poor little dog."

Freeman, the owner, said she put the dog in the attic because it was sick, according to Scammell. He said he reacted with disgust when he heard that.

"I just said, 'Have a nice day' and closed the door," Scammell said. "It's like a kid who's sick. Who would say, 'Let's just chain it to a post and leave him in the attic?'"

Scammell said "it was hard to see" Coco when he found her. After unhooking Coco, Scammell took her for a walk. The dog had nothing in her system.

"She was an absolute sweetheart," Scammell said. "Not vicious at all."

This was easily Scammell's worst experience as a landlord, he said. He said Freeman did incalculable damage to the dog.

As for the house, Scammell said he hadn't done a formal assessment of the cost of the destruction.
"They aren't going to get the security deposit back, I can tell you that," he said.

( - Oct 16, 2013)

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