San Diego Humane Society officials called the small home on El Monte Road near Petree Street "the worst hoarding situation" they've ever encountered.
Officers went to check on the property after neighbors called, concerned about the home and its resident.
What they found was unbelievable.
Seventy-eight dogs of all ages were living inside. Inches of feces coated the floors in every room - and in some places the feces was a FOOT thick. The smell of urine (ammonia) was so strong, officers who first arrived could stay inside for only seconds at a time.
After the animals were removed, health officials entered and condemned the home as unlivable.
A special animal control team was sent to remove the animals, with the resident's permission. A veterinarian quickly assessed each animal before they were taken to the San Diego Humane Society campus on Gaines Street for a more comprehensive check up.
At the Gaines Street campus, the dogs were to be treated for any health issues, spayed or neutered and evaluated for any behavioral issues.
While some of the animals suffered from skin or respiratory conditions, none of the dogs appeared to have life-threatening injuries or showed signs of abuse, said Chief Stephen MacKinnon of the Humane Society.
Most of the animals were small breeds including Chihuahua and dachshund mixes, officials said. One in the bunch was larger than the rest.
The smallest included a litter of gray and white puppies that had been born in the past 24 hours, officials said.
MacKinnon said the animals seemed friendly but fearful. Some had never been outside. Only about a third of the animals had access to the backyard.
If all goes well, the dogs should be available for adoption in the coming weeks.
The chief said the owner willingly relinquished all the dogs, and is cooperating with officers.
"He had some life incidents that impacted him and it just got out of control," MacKinnon said of the resident. "He said he was fearful about bringing this kind of situation forward."
On Thursday, a pungent stench wafted from the home as officers worked to clear out the house.
Neighbors said they suspected something was amiss but had no idea things had gotten so bad.
The two were close and had about 10 dogs then, Garza said.
The son continued living in the house. Over time, the stench got worse. On hot summer days, the odor could be smelled houses away, she said.
"It's surprising. I wish we would have known so we could have helped in some way," she said.
MacKinnon said although the El Cajon home was one of the worst cases they’d seen, animal hoarding isn’t uncommon. The humane society keeps someone on staff to specifically address it.
Last year, they had more than a dozen incidents of animal hoarding, he said.
“We work very closely with the mental health community and other social services because we recognize not only do the animals need help, but, very often, the people need help as well,” the chief said.
WHY NO CHARGES?
Per the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), there are several types of animal hoarders: the Overwhelmed Caregiver, the Rescuer Hoarder, the Exploiter Hoarder, the Incipient Hoarder, and the Breeder Hoarder.
It appears that this person may fall into the "Overwhelmed Hoarder" category, which says that a life event typically triggers the hoarding. As the neighbors said, at one time the owner and his father appeared to be able to provide for the approximately 10 small dogs they had. But after the death of his father, the son may have fallen into a deep depression and just didn't care about cleaning up after himself, his dogs, the house.
HARC does not recommend prosecution for this type of hoarder unless absolutely necessary. I agree with this on the condition that the person is required - and agrees - to get mental health counseling. They need to deal with the issues that triggered the hoarding in the first place. Without mental health intervention, the recidivism rate for hoarders is 100%.