LOOGOOTEE — A Thursday evening raid on a reported puppy mill has led Martin County authorities to rescue nearly 75 animals and to arrest the owner of the property where they were found. The Martin County Sheriff's Office has arrest Julia K. Arney, 73, of Loogootee on charges of animal neglect and animal cruelty.
Arney has since given up her rights to the animals and gave permission for the Martin County Humane Society to begin the placement process. As of Friday night, more than $12,447 had been raised for the humane society to help cover expenses. Some dogs were taken directly to veterinarians.
Officials say the events began Thursday afternoon when the county's animal control officer received a complaint of a puppy mill operating in Rutherford Township. Animal control officer Josh Hughett and two reserve deputies went to the property and reported hearing dogs barking from various structures as soon as they pulled up. They observed dogs running around inside the house and at least one dead dog.
"The neighbors told our deputies that the owner would often come in the evening to feed the animals," said Martin County Sheriff Travis Roush. "Seeing the dead dog inside, our officers did not want to wait for the owner. They wanted to make sure no other animals were in danger."
The sheriff's department requested and received a search warrant for the property. Additional deputies arrived to serve the warrant at 2779 Rutherford Road. Once inside they reported finding several dozen dogs, many locked in feces-covered cages with no food or water. Several were already deceased. In addition to the many dogs in the buildings officers found horses, mules and donkeys that were neglected. With the assistance of the Humane Society about 30 dogs were rescued while several dozen more remained on the property. Several more were rescued on Friday afternoon, and totaled about 75 in all.
The Humane Society posted a request for help on their Facebook page following the raid. "We just got home from helping get the first 30 dogs from the property," said the post. "There are an estimated 30-50 more plus a bunch of horses and a few donkeys. We need help."
Authorities say there had been rumblings about problems at the property but until a complaint was made the sheriff's department was unable to do anything. "You can't just go on hearsay and rumor," said Roush. "You have to have something and that tip at least gave us a reason to go look."
The sheriff says the law makes animal abuse cases sometimes difficult to pursue. "Animals are considered property and you cannot go and take someone's property on a whim," said Roush. "We are trying to balance that with the inhumane treatment of the animals."
The sheriff's department is working with the Martin County Humane Society in trying to find solutions for the surviving animals. Arney's agreement to release her rights to the animals helped, according to Martin County Humane Society volunteer Susan Wittmer. It allowed the organization to place the animals with other pet rescues. At least two horse rescue groups were due to arrive today. Wittmer said the money raised online will help those organizations with costs. The other rescues will be documenting the animals' care as part of the ongoing investigation.
The Humane Society reached out to other animal rescue organizations, area veterinarians, neighboring animal groups and the public at large to find solutions for the problem which was much bigger than their 14-dog shelter could handle. "This is way beyond our tiny humane society and we are going to need all the help we can get," said the organization in its post. "This is one of the worst things we have ever seen."
Arney was being held in the Martin County Jail on $20,000 cash bond.
Neighbors told the Times Herald that the problems with the animals started before Arney's husband died about six years ago on Christmas Day. They said problems with the animals got worse after a mobile home Arney owned was destroyed by fire a few years back. The mobile home was being used to house several dogs, and after it burned along with some pets, she moved the remaining dogs into her house. She then mostly lived in her newer model fifth-wheel RV which was parked in the yard on Friday. And then she started accumulating more dogs, which lived inside the house in filth, and outside in various cages.
One neighbor said two miniature burros were living in barn stalls up to their bellies in manure.
Both neighbors expressed some sympathy for Arney, who they said continued working at the Crane base, despite some health issues, but added that when the door of the house was open, one could smell the animals from the road.
Officials say the investigation is ongoing and rescue operations will be continuing.