KANSAS CITY, MO (AP) — A couple who operated an animal rescue face multiple charges after authorities found about 150 dead dogs on property in Missouri and Texas and rescued hundreds more animals that were packed into cages and living in "unimaginable" conditions, law enforcement said.
Tiffany and Steven Woodington operated All Accounted For, which brought animals from Texas to Missouri, the Benton County, Missouri, Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post Monday. Authorities said they found nearly 300 animals living at the operations in Texas and Missouri, but that many of the animals had to be euthanized because of poor health.
Tiffany Woodington, 49, is charged in Missouri with 10 counts of felony animal abuse and two misdemeanor counts of animal abuse. Her husband, Steven Woodington, 55, is charged in Texas with 19 counts of animal cruelty. A second man described as the caretaker also was charged in Texas with animal cruelty.
All three are free on bond. No attorney is listed for Tiffany Woodington in online court records and she doesn't have a listed number.
Cameron County, Texas, Sheriff Omar Lucio said Tuesday that authorities discovered about 270 animals — about two dozen of them dead — on property in the small community of Los Fresnos, which is north of Brownsville in the far southern part of the state. They were found Sept. 9 after authorities received complaints from neighbors about barking dogs, according to Lucio and Cameron County prosecutor Edward Sandoval. Deputies found many of the dogs covered in feces and urine, with two or three of them packed together in each cage. Authorities estimated that more than half of the Texas dogs wouldn't survive or would have to be euthanized.
"This is the worst case of animal abuse I've ever seen," said Lucio, who's been in law enforcement for more than 50 years. "The multitude? It's staggering, it's staggering to the imagination."
Paul Fourt Jr., the attorney for Steven Woodington, said his client intends to plead not guilty to the charges.
"He was at all times trying to rescue and save those animals," Fourt said, explaining that Woodington intended to also send the dogs to shelters in Kansas and Oklahoma so that they could ultimately be adopted. Fourt indicated that others were responsible for their mistreatment.
The Benton County Sheriff's Office said Steven Woodington was transporting the animals to Cole Camp, Missouri, which is about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City. Law enforcement went to a property there, where Tiffany Woodington led them to an old school bus, a barn and a house. The Benton County Sheriff's Office said it found about 120 dead dogs and a dead cat in "various stages of decay, some were just bones" on Sept. 12. Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox said some of the animals died in the same cages, making it difficult to get an exact count.
Authorities also found 38 dogs and one cat "alive but in unimaginable conditions." Tiffany Woodington had moved some of them to another location in the area, a sheriff's sergeant wrote in a report.
Tiffany Woodington told authorities that the dogs died of distemper and all within a three-day span. She was asked why she didn't seek help and "she did not have answer other than it just happened so fast," according to the report.
Jeane Jae, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Missouri, said the surviving animals, which are in its care, were matted and skinny.
"It is going to take a long time to rehabilitate these animals," she said, adding that one dog and one cat found in Missouri had to be euthanized for medical reasons.
Knox said he had heard "not a word" about problems before the dead animals were found, even though the nearest neighbor lived about 500 feet (152 meters) away.
"It really surprises me that no one in the community said, 'You better check that lady out.' And the smell, as soon as I drove up, I could smell it," he said. "I am a dog lover, and I struggle with it."