NEWS: 752 dogs + 36 birds = 1 record nightmare

A rural neighborhood in Avra Valley is not even trying to keep up with the Joneses, because the Joneses had more than 700 dogs.

Authorities said 752 dogs and 36 birds were seized this week at a property in the 12200 block of West Manville Road.

Authorities were tipped off by a case of kennel cough.

The canine count increased even as the dogs were being taken to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona; a few gave birth en route.

“We have about two-dozen moms with puppies, ” society spokeswoman Jenny Rose said.

The influx of pups created the need for the Humane Society to summon rescue organizations across the nation and ready some dogs for adoption as early as the weekend.

“This is the largest seizure that’s happened in Pima County that I’m aware of, ” sheriff’s Sgt. Terry Parish said.

Neighbors said the triple-wide mobile home was the residence of Billy and Wanda Jones for about the past 10 years. Some residents figured the couple kept about 50 dogs; others thought about 150. No one in their wildest estimate guessed more than 700.

Most of the animals were in crates in the home. Some were found in a barn on the property. All were in squalid surroundings, Rose said.

“The conditions were pretty brutal,” Rose said. “There were lots of animals and feces everywhere.”

Some dogs were missing their paws, Rose said, most likely the result of getting caught in fencing or attacked by other dogs. Three dogs were found dead, one from being attacked. The other two were puppies.

One arrived in such bad shape it had to be euthanized, Rose said.

Still, she said, most are “in remarkably good condition.”

The society has all the animals at its Companions for Life Center, 3465 E. Kleindale Road, around the corner from the Humane Society shelter, until the animals can be examined and deemed healthy for adoption.

The shelter, which can house 150 to 200 animals, was full before these dogs and birds came in

A rescue group from Phoenix took 80 of the dogs Wednesday night, and a rescue group from San Diego is coming Friday to take more, Rose said. The rest will go out to other rescue organizations or new homes in the metro area, she said.

The couple willingly signed over the animals to the Humane Society, Parish said, and hope to get 12 of the parrots returned once the birds are examined.

Small dogs, Chihuahuas especially, have become the latest fashion accessory because of pop icons such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Madonna, and movies such as “Legally Blond” and its sequel.

People will pay thousands of dollars for teacups and some toy breeds.

Parish said the couple did not ask for the return of any dogs, which Rose said include Chihuahuas, Chinese cresteds, Yorkshire and other terriers, Lhasa apsos and a smattering of other small breeds.

Parish said the owners were elderly and meant well but “got in over their heads.” The charges, if any, would be animal abuse by neglect, he said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. James Ogden said the Pima County Attorney’s Office will receive the outcome of the investigation and decide if charges are warranted.

Neighbors said Wanda Jones bred the dogs and sold them by meeting people on a nearby corner because she was afraid to bring strangers to the house. The dogs were listed on a number of puppy-mill sites, such as puppydogweb.com and puppiesforsaleusa.

“She wouldn’t even invite me over when she first moved in,” said Rita Backes, 57, who lives with her husband, their 3-year-old foster child and four dogs on an adjacent 5-acre lot.

Backes said the Joneses are nice people but increasingly kept to themselves over the years.

She knew Wanda Jones loved the animals and fed them Iams brand food because an Iams truck would deliver once a month.

“Maybe she just was a compassionate person and didn’t know how to channel it,” Backes said. “Maybe she had an obsession. Well, obviously she had an obsession.”

Neighbors Doug and Mary Schroder, both 50, weren’t as laid-back.

Mary Schroder said she repeatedly called the Pima Animal Care Center for the past several years to no avail.

“They could have taken care of this 400 dogs ago,” she said.

She said the dogs were constantly barking or fighting, and frequently got loose.

When the breeze blew just right, it made for an awful odor, she said.

“The stench was worse than a slaughterhouse,” she said. “No, it was worse than crossing the Santa Cruz River with the wind blowing in from the (sewage) plant.”

The Schroders tried mediation with the Joneses, bringing Our Family Community Mediation into the mix to help with the barking.

“It would be quieter for a few days, then start all over again,” she said.

Within the last year, the situation got markedly worse, she said.

At times, Schroder said, she would have to pick up 60 to 70 bags of dog waste after Jones walked her pooches on the easement in front of the Schroders’ house.

The Joneses declined comment, with their property guarded Wednesday by a sheriff’s representative.

Officials of the county animal center were not available for comment Wednesday night.

The mobile home packed with pets was first brought to authorities’ attention after a dog purchased by someone from Payson came down with kennel cough, Rose said.

The dog owner’s vet told the owner to alert authorities once the vet heard where the dog came from.

“Two people, especially elderly people trying to care for these animals, is just not possible,” Parish said. “They knew they were in over their heads. They said as much to me.”

The Joneses are not the only ones relieved.

“It’s so nice, so nice,” Mary Schroder said of the quiet that descended on the area Wednesday night.

“People live out here to get away and do their own thing,” her husband said. “But it’s not right when it starts interfering with other people’s quality of life.

“I’m just glad it’s over. I’m hoping it’s over. It’s nice to watch the sun go down, to live without the barking all day and all night.”

This article originally appeared in the March 13, 2008, issue of the Tucson Citizen.

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