Perhaps 55 dogs seized from Chesterton home
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 11, 2012 1:13PM
Resident Donna Montoya helps hand over a dog to Porter County Animal Control officers Patrick Cassin (left) Greg Nemeth (right) as the Porter County Sheriff's Department and Animal Control execute a search warrant and work on removing about 50 dogs from a property in West Chester Township, Ind. Wednesday January 11, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2012 9:18AM
CHESTERTON — Donna Montoya said Wednesday she knows she has too many dogs.
But she insisted — during a break from officials with Porter County Animal Control, the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and Portage Animal Control seizing the dogs, which totaled 55 by the end of the day — that she’s not a bad person.
“I tried to do the right thing by just not giving them up or throwing them away,” she said, crying. She admitted she’s been charged with animal neglect before, but the charge was dropped. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I guess I wasn’t.”
Officials arrived at the home, at 190 E. County Road 1400N, at 8 a.m. to begin taking the dogs, which they said are disease-ridden and neglected. Montoya, who has not been charged, faces multiple counts of cruelty to animals, a Class A misdemeanor; property owner George Mitchell, who also lives at the residence and is reportedly Montoya’s boyfriend, also could face charges, pending a decision from the Porter County Prosecutor’s Office.
Sheriff’s Department evidence technician Roger Bowles was bitten deeply on the left hand by one of the dogs, and was taken by a Porter hospital ambulance for medical attention. Under Indiana Code, that could bring even stiffer charges against Montoya.
Also bitten were Greg Nemeth, an animal control officer, and a volunteer with the Porter County Animal Shelter. Bowles and Nemeth required stitches and will receive antibiotics and shots against rabies; information on the shelter volunteer was not immediately available.
According to an affidavit for the search warrant, animal control officials came to the house Nov. 18, after a complaint from neighbors about dog waste leaking into the water table was forwarded to them from the Porter County Health Department.
On that visit, as well as on a follow-up visit on Jan. 4, officers observed the dogs — there were 30 in the yard and Montoya said another 20 were in the home — drinking water contaminated with urine and feces, no food or potable water, and animals fighting with one another. Some had scars as well.
During the visit last week, Montoya surrendered seven puppies, which were infested with fleas and found to be carrying the lethal canine parvovirus. Montoya has admitted the animals were not vaccinated; that is a violation of state law.
The raid was originally scheduled to take place in mid-December but was put off until appropriate arrangements could be made for the dogs.
“We wanted to make sure we had everything in place to take them to a proper place where they would have food, water and appropriate veterinary care,” said Sgt. Larry LaFlower, public information officer with the Sheriff’s Department. “What we did not want to do is take these dogs from bad conditions to worse.”
The dogs were taken to several locations; officials, who spent eight hours on the scene, are not disclosing where those are.
‘She’ll do it again’
The Health Department will determine whether the home is habitable, said environmental health specialist Dan Boyd. Montoya would then have the opportunity to correct any concerns.
Dogs barked and ran in the yard while sheriff’s deputies and animal control officers used a loop, and sometimes a dirty white sheet, to corral them into trucks. Occasionally, the odor of dog feces wafted in the air.
“It’s been like this for a while,” said a neighbor, who declined to give his name. He’s lived near the property for two years, and has been familiar with it for several more.
“I’ve watched dog fights between 25 or 30 dogs,” he said, adding Montoya gets rid of some dogs and then gets more. “I’m glad they never got out. (The raid) will help the dogs now, but I don’t think it will do anything. She’ll do it again.”
Officers eventually made their way into the home, wearing masks coated with Vicks VapoRub to cut the smell. Before he was bitten, Bowles said he made it into the first room of the two-story house and the smell “will take your breath away.”
In his 12 years with the Sheriff’s Department, Bowles said he has never seen an apparent case of animal hoarding of this magnitude.
Wearing a bright pink sweatshirt and shorts, Montoya, 50, tried to move the dogs along. Mitchell used a rake to help.
“Come on, Bessie. Come on, Curly. Come on, Davis. Come on, Georgia,” Montoya called to the dogs.
Montoya said she’s lived at the residence for six years, and Mitchell has lived there since 1986. The dogs are Rottweiler/chow/Labrador retriever mixes, she said, adding she worked with the previous staff at the Porter County Animal Shelter to try to control their numbers.
She would surrender the puppies and, when there was room, the shelter would take three dogs at time. The shelter also was working with Montoya on having the animals spayed and neutered, though that stopped about a year ago.
“I bathe them regularly and they eat well, better than we do,” she said, adding she goes through 150 pounds of dog food a day.
Montoya was working as a truck driver when she lost her job and is now completing a business degree at a local college. She said she has a job lined up.
She knows she has too many dogs.
“I’d like to keep my five original ones, and there’s a couple I bottle fed as babies,” named Elmo and Rudy, she said, adding she could feed them and provide proper veterinary care. “I don’t know what’s going on. This is what I woke up to. I have no idea what I’ll be charged with or if I’ll get them back.”