They went back to the couple they'd bought one from about a year prior, but this time things were a little different.
Only Long's husband went to see the pup, and when he sent her a picture of the one the couple was offering, what she saw was nothing like they’d asked for. The color of the fur was wrong. It wasn’t a toy dog. It didn't even have papers that came with it.
“We didn’t really get what we wanted,” said Long, of Crisfield.
But she knew one thing — that dog couldn’t stay in the conditions it was living in.
“I said, 'You cannot leave that dog there,'” Long said.
So they brought the pup home.
The Eden home she and her husband bought that dog from was recently investigated in Wicomico County and more than 300 dogs were removed from the property.
A kennel check took place April 6 at the house on Cooper Road. It was a 14-hour day spent removing the animals from deplorable conditions. The dogs were taken to the Humane Society of Wicomico County and placed in other shelters around the Eastern Shore. The worst ones were kept locally.
The dogs were described as having matted-fur, covered in feces that had long-since calcified, police said.
Another dog was found with a foot chewed off.
In the few weeks since the animals were removed, one has died, said Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matthew Maciarello.
It’s a case that’s raised bigger questions to the forefront in Wicomico.
What more, if anything, could have been done? That's a concern that's hit home to many who assert officials may have known sooner, an accusation possibly backed up by court documents that show another county gave warning to Wicomico after the couple's involvement in a similar incident elsewhere.
Others have wondered what can be done in the future to keep this from happening again. And it's something local delegates are working to see how they can help.
“We’re trying to see if there’s legislation at the state level that could prevent something like this from happening in the future,” said Delegate Carl Anderton Jr., R-38B-Wicomico. “This should have never happened."
A possible pattern
Susan and Robert Murphy have been identified by multiple other news sources as the couple involved in the Wicomico investigation.
But documents from Dorchester County give names for a couple who lives on Cooper Road, and were previously charged, though not convicted, with animal cruelty charges.
Law enforcement has not yet identified the individuals involved in this case, because the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Calls to a phone number associated with the Murphy's address were answered by a woman who confirmed her name as Susan. The woman would not confirm she was the Susan Murphy being investigated by law enforcement.
Court documents from Dorchester County's District Court show the pair was charged in 2009 in a similar, but smaller, case.
The first time Long and her husband went to get a dog, they weren’t allowed to go inside the house. This was October 2014.
There were a lot of Pomeranians running around outside in a fenced-in area, she said. The woman would only bring two dogs out for them to see — she wouldn’t show any more. And while they could see some dogs outside in enclosures, Long thinks there were more on the property.
“We heard several barking,” she said, but she couldn’t see where they were.
The first dog they brought home in 2014 was in OK condition. The second one — about a year later in 2015 — wasn't. Its fur didn’t look healthy. The woman who sold them the dog said the dogs had been eating eggshells.
“The health of the second one wasn’t quite as good,” she said.
Her description is similar to that in 2009's documents.Only her husband went in 2015, Long said, but she said she thinks it was worse that time than the first time they went. This time around, the dog’s fur felt like a Brillo pad, she added. And only one dog, without papers or a known birth date, was brought out to be seen.
Dorchester law enforcement described going to the home after a complaint reported from a neighbor. The animal control officer said the Murphys had not been back to their property for several days, and there were dogs left in pens behind the house.
The dogs were being forced to walk and sit in their own feces, according to the documents.
While Susan Murphy appeared to be home, documents show, she did not answer the door when animal control showed up. Officers found three long-haired cats in a barn that were being kept in "filthy, rusty cages," according to the documents.
They were all infested with fleas and ticks, and had matted fur. The cages were soaked in urine and feces, documents show.
Care, investigations continue for 310 rescued dogs
Animal control went to the back yard to find eight dogs and five puppies in poor condition. These cages were also filled with urine and feces, little to no food and water, and mouse droppings, according to the documents. The dogs were also infested with fleas and ticks, and had matted fur.
After the Long's second visit, where the dog they received was in poor condition, they made their report about the couple.
While they did go to officials about the two of them, Long said she doesn’t think the couple necessarily meant for things to turn out this way. She just thinks the situation got out of control.
“I honestly don't believe that they’re malicious people,” she said.
Time ticks on
For many of the dogs rescued, the process of finding forever homes has started.
Aaron Balsamo, executive director of the Humane Society of Wicomico County, who's only been in his position since the end of March, said about a dozen or so dogs have been adopted.
But it took time, and a lot of work, to get them there.
From day one, the care of the dogs was top priority, Maciarello said.
“The dogs’ health and well-being comes first,” he said.
Some of them were in pretty rough shape. There were pups that hadn’t been touched for years, he said.
“They couldn’t feel human contact for as long as they had the matting and filth on top of their bodies,” he added.
As days continue to pass, the legal investigation continues to grow. There’s been no announcement when it comes to charges.
And Maciarello wanted to make clear that there isn’t any sort of definite charges right now. Currently, they’re investigating. And in a month or so, decisions about whether or not there will be charges filed, will be released.
The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office has been canvassing neighbors, he said, and talking to people who may have bought, or tried to buy, dogs from the couple.
Anyone who has information about the pair is asked to reach out to Lt. Tim Robinson at the sheriff’s office.
Online, many people keep coming back to one thing — how many years did people make calls about this couple?
It was a question asked at a recent news conference held at the shelter, and one that’s been floating around social media since the case broke.
Maciarello said he does know the humane society had made some kennel checks, but they came back as acceptable when they occurred.
Balsamo could not comment as to whether there were previous calls or not.
Dorchester County District Court documents show animal control did contact Wicomico County to warn officials there the couple moved into their area.
Documents show the officer told Wicomico County the couple "had plans to resume their breeding and puppy sales."
The officer out of Wicomico advised he would give them a week to get the dogs set up and would then go and check on them. If the officer from Wicomico did not find anything, he reportedly told Dorchester County, he would "continue to monitor the situation and keep a check on the dogs," according to the documents.
Long and her husband called to make their report in November of 2015, after the incident with the second dog. But, Long did say she’s heard there were other reports before then.
“I’m sure we’re not the only people who called,” she added.
What could change?
Maciarello said there’s been some contact with local delegates about what could be helpful when dealing with cases like this in the future.
For one, how charges are filed.
“After you accumulate a certain magnitude… of neglect cases,” he said, could the crime be bumped up to a felony?
This could be useful once a case hits a certain number of animals in one event, he said.
“It should be elevated to more than a misdemeanor. It should be a felony,” Maciarello said.
Other considerations would be a national registry for those convicted of animal abuse cases.
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza said these conversations have looked at “possibility of enhancing the prosecutor's tools.”
The creation of a registry for people who’ve been in trouble before may help prevent them from jumping county, or state lines, and doing it again, he said.
They'll be waiting until Maciarello wraps up the case, she said, but their early conversations have showed there could be some legislation that could really help in these cases.
For Wicomico, this case shows “excessive abuse and neglect (that) is at a whole different level,” she said.
Anderton said things wouldn't start rolling until after due process takes its course. But then they will sit down, and work to move forward. This may be some time around the end of the summer, he added.
This type of case isn't one you'd expect to see in your backyard, Balsamo said. It's not what he expected just coming into the job and community.
"It was sad... just the condition (the dogs) were in," he added.
But, there's a lot of progress that has been made. Every day, they're one step closer to getting the pups where they need to be.
And those who have helped, from local businesses and members of the community, have made an incredible difference.
"To see how the community reacted ... it's just left me speechless," Balsamo said.
(Delmarva News - April 28, 2016)