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276 dogs discovered in N.J. home

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HOWELL, N.J. – More than 200 dogs — including at least one giving birth — were rescued from deplorable conditions inside a bi-level home in what authorities are calling “an extreme hoarding situation,” authorities said.

“Most of these dogs have never seen the outside of their house before,” said Ross Licitra, chief law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In all, 276 dogs were found inside the 1880-square-foot home, officials said. Many were located on book shelves and makeshift platforms; some were even inside the walls.

“This is actually the worst hoarding case that we’ve ever experienced ever here in the history of Monmouth County,” he said.

He said most of the animals were in “fair” condition and authorities didn’t find any dead dogs.  However, some of the animals were taken to get emergency veterinary care; few of the dogs received oxygen at the scene.

Licitra stressed the residents of the home, , were cooperating with authorities.  The couple told authorities that they started three years ago with eight dogs. The dogs reproduced from there.

“They’re just not stopping it,” he said. “I think it’s just completely uncontrolled.”

As authorities were packing up and leaving, a weary-looking Joseph and Charlene Hendricks emerged from the house and walked down the driveway.  When approached by an Asbury Park Press reporter, Joseph Hendricks asked, “Could you trim it down and not give us so much attention? We’re not bad people.”

When asked to explain how this happened, Hendricks replied, “It’s more than you think.”

With that, the couple returned to the house.

Earlier in the day, acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni responded to the scene, and said criminal charges would hinge on the condition of the dogs. Dead or extremely malnourished dogs could warrant indictable offenses. The situation may only warrant a municipal court disorderly persons charge or possibly no charges at all.

“It really depends on the facts and circumstances,” he said.

Officials from the SPCA, Associated Humane Society of Tinton Falls, St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, township police, and the county sheriff’s office, health department and hazmat team responded to the house on Bennett Road, Licitra said. Authorities set up a triage area to care for and vaccinate the dogs before they were taken to shelters. They were able to vaccinate about 80 dogs at the scene before they ran out of supplies.

Dozens of workers in hazmat suits pulled out dozens of dogs, including handfuls of puppies, of several different breeds, including pugs, chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers.

As workers opened the front door to re-enter the house to remove more dogs, barking could be heard from inside. Some of the hazmat workers put on ventilators and air tanks, similar to what firefighters wear, before entering the house.  Urine and feces were on the floor, and holes were torn through walls. A foul odor permeated the air.

Sheriff Shaun Golden said firefighters were using thermal imaging equipment to search for animals in cracks or crevices in the home.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Licitra said of the effort to remove the animals. “Everybody is trying to get this under control.”

Conditions in the house are “deplorable,” Licitra said.

“Think about a house with 100 dogs living in it,” he said, shortly after the dog removal began.

The situation was discovered about 6 p.m. Thursday after an animal control officer was called to the location to chase down a dog that got loose, the chief said. The officer, with the Associated Humane Society, suspected more was going on, eventually made contact with the owners of the house and then contacted the SPCA, Licitra said.

“They called us, and this is what we’ve discovered,” he said.

Some rescuers suffered minor injuries: cuts, bruises, respiratory issues, and heat exhaustion. They were treated at the scene.

Authorities started removing dogs about 9:30 Friday morning.

Across the street, Suzanne DeGrande, 60, watched from her front steps.

“Nobody expected something like this,” she said. “Nobody expected this type of thing. I’m like in shock. I haven’t been able to get out of my driveway all day.”

She said she could hear barking, and her husband once went to the home to complain about the smell, but they never expected there to be so many dogs.

“Apparently they both had a problem,” she said. “I don’t know how they lived in a house like that.”

“I just hope that they both get the help they need,” she added.

Those interested in adopting dogs or donating to the Monmouth County SPCA can visit the organization’s website, or call 732-542-0040.

Other cases of animal hoarding in the New Jersey Shore area include:

Forty dogs found caked in their own waste and living in squalor in a home on Spruce Street in Lakewood last year. The resident of the home, identified as Laura Giacini, was fined $1,900 and banned from owning animals, SPCA officials said.

More than 300 dead birds found in 2014 stacked from floor to ceiling in the Little Silver home of Gretchen Rell, a former volunteer for the Monmouth County SPCA. Rell, 57 at the time, pleaded guilty to animal neglect and was placed on probation for five years.

– Sixty-eight assorted animals left to die in what SPCA officials described as “a maggot-infested tomb,” when former Toms River police dispatcher Matthew Teymant and his wife, Amanda, fell behind on the mortgage on their Barnegat home and moved out in 2008. Matthew Teymant, then 30, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in 2009, was placed on probation for five years and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

On Wednesday, law-enforcement officers with the Monmouth County SPCA and federal agents rescued 17 pit bulls from a home in Asbury Park in what authorities said was an interstate, dog-fighting ring. The animals were seized from Mario Atkinson, 40, of New Street, Asbury Park, who was charged under a federal statute that makes it a felony to fight dogs or to possess them for dog-fighting. Authorities seized a total of 66 dogs, 44 of them from locations in New Jersey, in multi-state raids in the dog-fighting investigation on Wednesday.

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