Neighbors in Ross shocked by number of dogs rescued from home
From the day Kate Tierney moved into her home along Ridgeside Road in Ross Township, she suspected there might be a hoarder living in the house across the street.
There was junk strewn in the front yard, and at least two dumpsters had been filled and removed from the modestly sized home.
On Thursday, Tierney said she had no idea that the woman living in the home was actually hoarding more than 100 dogs, according to authorities.
“I constantly heard barking, but I really couldn’t tell how many dogs were in there,” said Tierney, 24, who moved to the neighborhood about a year and a half ago. “I figured maybe there were 10 animals at the most. And because they were filling up the dumpsters, I felt like maybe they were at least trying to be good neighbors.”
While Tierney said she could smell an “almost overwhelming” stench emanating from the house “on breezy days,” it wasn’t enough to raise her suspicions about the number of animals in the house.
“I thought maybe there was a dead animal or something near our house,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, 117 dogs and puppies — mostly Australian Shepherd, Border Collie and Golden Retriever mixes — were rescued from the home, including some that humane officers described as “emaciated” and in need of immediate medical attention. They described some of the dogs as elderly.
The odor of ammonia in the house was so strong that rescuers could not enter without the protection of a breathing mask.
On Thursday morning, township code enforcement officers posted a sign warning people — including the homeowner and her adult son who lived there — not to enter the property, which was cordoned off by police tape.
Nick Rickert, the township’s community development director, said the municipality is proceeding with steps to have the property condemned.
The township issued a statement on Thursday saying it “has received complaints about this property from neighbors and concerned residents throughout the last several years, resulting in multiple citations, court hearings and rulings from the local magistrate.”
The rescued animals were taken to Animal Friends in Ohio Township, where staff and first responders worked until early Thursday to complete the intake process.
One puppy that was just a few days old died.
Another dog that had severe bites on its neck was transferred to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in the North Hills for treatment. It is in stable condition.
Some neighbors who live along Ridgeside Road say that while they were unaware that so many dogs were being kept in the home, problems with the property are not new.
Nancy Schlosser, 78, who lives next door to the house from which the dogs were rescued, said she was unaware of the sheer number of dogs living in the house, but she suspected they were not receiving proper care.
“I can hardly believe there were so many dogs in there, but I’m not surprised,” she said. “The smell was horrible and there were always flies swarming around. A couple of years ago, they were cited for having farm animals on the property. I really can’t tell you how happy I am that something is finally being done about it.”
Ross officials confirmed that the property’s owner, whose name was not released, was cited last year for having scores of cats, chickens, rabbits, ducks and even a goat on the property.
Schlosser, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, said she hasn’t spoken to the woman who was hoarding the dogs “for many years.”
“I tried to be friendly with her when she first moved in, but then we found out that she was deliberately letting her dogs do their business on our lawn when we left our house,” she said. “When we confronted her, she just began screaming profanities at us. So, we left her alone.”
Steve Korbel, president of the Ross board of commissioners, said even if police or code enforcement officers respond to a complaint, they don’t necessarily have the authority to enter a property.
“We respond to all complaints, but we are constrained by the law,” he said.
Mary Withrow, executive director of Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue, which assisted with the case on Wednesday, said her organization has worked on animal hoarding cases across the country “but this is definitely one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Withrow said cracking down on animal hoarders often can be difficult.
“Just because an officer goes to the house doesn’t mean the owner is going to let you in,” she said, noting that on previous visits to the house in Ross “we only saw four dogs, and they did not look neglected.”
Withrow said searching a property requires a warrant issued by a judge “who is going to want to see proof that abuse or neglect is taking place.”
Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture, which oversees dog officers, said the agency is investigating the incident.
“It’s an open investigation, but we definitely will be filing citations,” she said.
Animal Friends is holding a fundraiser on its Facebook page. As of Thursday afternoon, more than $13,305 has been raised to care for the dogs.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .