Volunteers carry a cage with birds recovered from the mobile home located on site. (Madison Courier staff photos by Mark Campbell)
Volunteers carry a cage with birds recovered from the mobile home located on site. (Madison Courier staff photos by Mark Campbell)
The dozens of dogs and other animals removed from a Jefferson County property Tuesday still were being evaluated and cared for Wednesday while the owner of the property appeared in Jefferson County Superior Court on charges of animal neglect.
Vickie Gorrell, 59, of Madison, was arrested Tuesday on two counts of neglect of an invertebrate animal, both Class A misdemeanors, in connection with two malnourished pit bull cross dogs who were removed from her property Jan. 15. However, she could face additional charges pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation.
Gorrell appeared before Jefferson County Magistrate Nancy Jacobs Tuesday, who heard testimony by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Detective Yancy Denning before agreeing to release Gorrell from jail on her own recognizance with conditions that she undergo a mental evaluation; appear for all court dates; not possess, harbor or care for any vertebrate animal; not register as a dog breeder; and allow pretrial or other officers of the court to inspect her home and property to ensure compliance and that all seized animals will reside and remain in the care of the state. Her pretrial date was set for March 17 and a public defender was appointed to represent her.
Prosecutor David Sutter had requested bond in the amount of $10,000 and the same stipulations, but Jacobs ruled that Gorrell was no risk for flight and presented no danger to herself or other persons.
According to Denning, the condition of the two dogs that were removed from the property two weeks ago has greatly improved. One dog had to have a portion of its tail amputated because of an injury. Denning said improved conditions and efforts of veterinarians had greatly helped the dogs. Seeing the condition of the dogs prompted the county to bring charges against Gorrell and begin organizing a bigger operation to remove all animals from the three-acre tract for evaluation and treatment.
Denning said the removal operation took days to organize, to secure the state officials, veterinarians, volunteers, law enforcement, vehicles and facilities needed to deal with so many animals in an unknown condition.
At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Denning and Jefferson County Animal Control Officer Paul Geyman put that operation into action by showing up at Gorrell’s mobile home near the Jefferson-Scott County line with an arrest warrant. Gorrell was not at home, but the officers reached her by phone and informed her they were there to take the animals.
They began assessing the situation, finding up to 100 dogs and puppies and dozens of other animals on site, with Gorrell arriving a short time later. She was taken into custody and transported to the Jefferson County Jail as volunteers started moving animals off site to several locations where veterinarians and volunteers were standing by to assess the condition of the animals and provide aid.
Denning said the condition of the animals removed Tuesday was not as bad as those animals taken Jan. 15, but the conditions they were living in were inhumane with no food or water in most cages and the ground covered in feces. Many were living in or chained to cages with no shelter and covered in mud.
“We’ve not found any dead animals but we’ve found several that are in pretty bad shape,” Denning said as the animals were being evaluated and moved. “We’ve walked through the whole property but we will be here the rest of the day recovering animals and getting them the help that they need. We won’t even look for dead animals until we’re done helping the ones that are alive. ”
The operation took 6.5 hours before an array of animals and birds were removed from the scene.
Among the groups at the site to help deal with the recovery were the Madison Jefferson County Animal Shelter, the Scott County Humane Society and Dr. Kyle Shipman, field operations director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH), and a staff of three others who headed up the recovery. Local veterinarians and more volunteers were standing by at multiple undisclosed locations to feed, water and shelter the animals while evaluating their condition.
BOAH staffers and others who went onto the site wore multiple layers of protective clothing and worked during an intermittent rainfall. One of the BOAH staffers who had been on site for about an hour said the scene was “Horrible. Beyond horrible.”
Denning said Wednesday that the preliminary report from the state veterinarian, who did inspections on the animals as they were checked before being taken transported off site, indicated there were between 75 and 100 dogs and puppies as well as four cats, 16 rabbits, six pot-bellied pigs, six ducks, 15 chickens, five parakeets, seven cockatiels, a pigeon and a goat.
BOAH spokesperson Denise Derrer said the state sent three veterinarians and an animal specialist to the site to make an on-site assessment of all animals including photographs and scoring of condition based on overall health. They checked teeth, looked for parasites and skin lesions and recorded the living conditions, availability of nutritional food and fresh water and whether the animals were safe and had adequate medical care such as the state-required rabies vaccinations.
She said BOAH staffers will compile all of the gathered information into a written report to be released to the requesting agency — in this case the Jefferson County sheriff and Jefferson County prosecutor — at a later date.
“We’re basically an unbiased third party that comes in and makes assessments,” Derrer said, adding that the staff is available to testify on its finding in court but rarely does so because “most cases are resolved without our assistance.”
According to Derrer, Indiana does not have specific laws pertaining to how many animals one can own, but there are requirements that any dog over a year old have a rabies vaccination and anyone with more than 20 female dogs of breeding age (one-year-old) is required to have a breeder’s license.
Derrer could not provide statistics on whether the state has dealt with other animal seizures in the numbers of Tuesday’s removal in Jefferson County but noted that animal hoarding cases involving smaller numbers are much more common.
“Hoarding is considered a mental health diagnosis,” Derrer noted, adding that most situations start out with someone taking in stray animals but then it can “spiral out of control very easily.”
Denning said there is a right way and a wrong way to support the animals in a way that is best for them. Approved services like the Madison Jefferson County Animal Shelter can provide a roof and heat, clean water and nutritional food, proper vaccinations and the hope of being adopted by a loving home.
Denning said the county has made previous calls to the property about sick puppies and complaints from neighbors about the large number of dogs kept at the site.
As Tuesday’s rescue operation continued, more and more neighbors came upon the scene where more than two dozen people and multiple vehicles were loading and transporting animals from the site. Several stopped to ask about the commotion and upon hearing that authorities were at the site to charge Gorrell and recover the dozens of animals, none seemed surprised.
“They’re known to be animal hoarders. I know the neighbors have had problems with dead dogs showing up in their yards,” said Marco Preston, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years and was driving by in his pickup truck with his 8-year-old boxer, Diesel, riding beside him. “I’m an animal rights guy and that’s just not right. I knew they were hoarders but I didn’t know it was this bad.”
Denning said that although Gorrell has been charged and the animals have been removed and cared for, the situation will not be resolved until more court action takes place.
Until then, the county, local veterinarians and volunteers have the responsibility of keeping the animals safe and secure and making sure they have the food, water and medical attention they deserve.