NEW MEXICO -- Fifty-four dogs were rescued Monday morning from what is being described by animal-welfare advocates as a house of horrors in Ribera, N.M.
While most of the animals now in shelters in San Miguel and Santa Fe counties appear to be in good health, the living conditions in the mobile home were some of the worst imaginable, said Heather Ferguson of the Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force, who called the home a "house of horrors."
"It's the most horrific animal hoarding I've ever seen," she said
Most of the home was coated in an inches-thick blanket of feces and in one room, waste slopping from a wall reached as high as three feet. Bags of trash and other items filled the home, which contained little more than broken couches and litter-filled tables and chairs.
Water from a bathtub tap had been left on over the weekend, flooding the home. The residence will likely be condemned, Ferguson said county authorities told her.
There were signs that some of the dogs, mostly terrier-mixes, were eating dead dogs, said Ferguson and Bill Hutchison, communications manager with the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. Body parts of dogs were found throughout the house, and the bodies of at least 10 dogs were found scattered around the home.
Lyle Roof, 67, the owner of the home, said he relinquished control of the animals Sunday evening from his hospital bed at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. Roof said he has kidney problems and was suffering renal failure when he was transferred to the Santa Fe hospital from Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas, N.M.
Roof said he tried his best to care for the animals but his medical condition took a turn for the worse about six weeks ago and he had no one to help him care for himself or the dogs. Most of the dogs, which he said he never counted, were offspring of two dogs he bought about a decade ago. He also cared for several dogs that were abandoned on his six-acre property, on the Interstate 25 frontage road near Santa Ana Road.
His home is not far from last year's hoarding case in which 67 Afghan hounds were rescued.
"I got sick and it just got out of control," Roof said in a telephone interview from the hospital. "I couldn't get out of there. I just hope all the dogs find homes. They're all good, sweet dogs."
A neighbor, Rick Kingsbury, was one of the first to alert police about the case. Kingsbury said he came home late Saturday and found about 20 dogs on his porch and property.
Kingsbury, who lives about a quarter-mile away across a mesa, said he suspected the dogs belonged to his neighbor, whom he didn't really know. Kingsbury said he's heard dogs barking from the property, and drove over to investigate.
At the property, Kingsbury said he found a large group of dogs, the doors of the home open, the television on and water flowing from the bathroom.
He called the state police, and eventually an officer came out, and the two walked through the home with a flashlight.
"I thought there might be a dead body in there," Kingsbury said. "It was totally trashed."
The state Attorney General's Office and San Miguel County Animal Control served a search warrant at the home early Monday, said State Police Lt. Eric Garcia. State police were at the site to provide security, he said.
Teams from the shelter, the Santa Fe County Animal Services and San Miguel Animal Services were on the scene Monday to help rescue the animals. Four of the animals needed medical attention, but most were healthy.
One frightened dog bit two of the shelter workers, and Hutchison broke his foot when he slipped trying to corral a loose dog. One worker needed stitches for the bite, while the other shelter worker's wound was dressed and bandaged.
The dog will be quarantined for 10 days, but Hutchison said the dog appeared to be healthy.
The San Miguel shelter took a dozen dogs, while others are being looked after in Santa Fe. A team of shelter workers using towels carefully pulled the dogs out of the vans and vehicles used in the rescue and placed them in holding kennels.
Aside from the four dogs that needed immediate medical attention, the others are being provided with comfort and food. The shelter hopes to find people who could help foster the dogs until they're ready for adoption.
In spite of the dogs' circumstances, they are remarkably social, Hutchinson said, and should make great pets.
Roof said he always provided for his dogs and is supportive of the shelter. He tried to spay and neuter his animals, but the cost became too much of a burden.
When his illness became too much late last week, Roof said he called a former girlfriend in Texas for help. She drove over and took him to the hospital. As for the squalor in which he lived, Roof said he imagines that people will make him out as a bad person.
"If they ever get sick, then they'll know," Roof said Monday evening. "Partner, I always took care of those dogs. I had stacks of 50-pound bags of dog food for them."
He also built sheds for the dogs on the property, he said. The mobile home will be torn down, Roof said, and he hopes to find new shelter with the help of friends and family.
Kingsbury, the neighbor, said it was simply a difficult situation and he hopes people don't judge Roof too harshly.
"It's just sad that we don't know our neighbors anymore," he said.
Ferguson said it's important that people tip off authorities if they believe hoarding is taking place.
Providing food for a person who keeps a large number of animals only enables that person, she said.
Ferguson said she will encourage authorities to charge Roof with animal neglect charges as a way of making sure he won't get in the same situation again.
(The New Mexican - June 1, 2009