MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Authorities raided a home on rural Goshen Road on Saturday morning and seized about 60 dogs — after finding six dogs buried just steps from the house.
They arrested Dawn Scheld, 46, on “numerous charges” involving animal cruelty, said Col. Frank Rizzo, the superintendent of the New Jersey State SPCA Humane Police. The suspect was being held on $50,000 cash bail, he added.
“We found 57 dogs in deplorable conditions,” said Rizzo, who added he expected the count to go to 60 or more.
At least six dogs were dead, found buried under mounds of dirt near a set of kennels outside the back of the house, which sits more than 100 yards off Goshen Road in Middle Township’s Goshen section.
One dead dog, which was lying under a cloth cover next to a shallow hole, had a visible tumor growing outside its body, near a hind leg, when an investigator lifted the cover for an evidence photograph.
The heavily wooded lot takes up about 6 acres and is owned by Scheld and Leroy J. Thomas Jr., Cape May County property records show.
No other homes are visible from the back of the raided house — 10 officers from the major crimes squad of the SPCA Humane Police were joined in the operation by Middle Township police, the Atlantic County SPCA and the Humane Society of Atlantic County. By mid-Saturday afternoon, uniformed investigators from the Humane Police could be seen going over woods farther behind the home, apparently looking for more animal graves.
Scheld’s lawyer, Nathan Perry, declined to comment when he was reached by phone after his client was arrested.
Rizzo said no one was home when investigators went in at 10 a.m., and Humane Police Lt. Col. Sy Goldberg said that when they got there, 35 dogs were in one room on the first floor of the house. There were piles of fresh feces on the unfinished floor, and even hours later, the air was thick with the stench of dog waste. Dozens more dogs were in several sets of wire kennels outside the house.
The dogs were being examined in a triage operation set up by veterinarians and technicians in a van provided by the Atlantic County SPCA. Once they were looked at, they were being taken to shelters in Atlantic County or other shelters within 50 miles of the home, Goldberg said.
“We don’t want to have to put any of the dogs down,” Rizzo added. “We want to adopt out every animal that we take today.”
The state SPCA Humane Police — a force of 62 sworn, armed, law-enforcement officers who operate with no government funding — has been dealing with Scheld since July, said Rizzo, the superintendent. The agency also got the warrant to conduct Saturday’s raid.
The superintendent said they had “been at this property repeatedly” after getting a complaint from someone who bought a dog from the suspect — because the dog died shortly after the purchase.
“She’s got puppies, but I don’t know that I can call her a breeder,” Rizzo said. He added later that “this is more of a collector/hoarder situation here.”
The rescued dogs aren’t any specific breed — they include everything from pit bulls to Dobermans to “shih tzus, labs, an Old English sheepdog, collies, mixed breeds” Goldberg said.
“You think of it,”Rizzo added, “it’s there.”
The investigators say Scheld told them she went to shelters — as close as Pleasantville and as far away as North Carolina — to “rescue” dogs.
“They believe they’re doing something positive.“ Rizzo said. “But now they’re going back to a shelter.”
The Humane Police were working with Scheld’s lawyer, but Rizzo said the suspect didn’t improve the conditions she was keeping the dogs in, and “she chose not to surrender the animals. So now they’ve got to be seized.”
Steve Dash, the executive director of the Humane Society of Atlantic County, said this was the first case of its kind he’s seen in 30 years of full-time work in the field. But Rizzo said he and his colleagues at the SPCA Humane Police aren’t that lucky.
“We probably do like a half a dozen, three-quarters of a dozen of these cases a year” around the state, the superintendent said.
Across Goshen Road, one neighbor said she’d heard dogs barking on the Scheld property — especially when cars would drive back on the long driveway — but had no idea of the number of animals the suspect was keeping.
“I’ve never been back there,” said Ruthie Morris, who estimated the current owners have lived there about 12 years. The neighbor appeared shocked when she heard about the dead dogs — and that Scheld was under arrest — even though she said she’d never met the suspect.
“I had no idea what was going on” Morris said. But Saturday, she did see the raid start — “All I knew was, I saw a long line of vehicles going back there,” she added.
Scheld apparently used Facebook and other Internet sites to connect with adoption groups and animal enthusiasts — and find animals to adopt.
Saturday’s raid was the second SPCA seizure in Cape May County in three days. Four animals were seized from an Upper Township home Thursday.
Goldberg, the Humane Police deputy superintendent, added that since the agency has seized the animals, it is now responsible for feeding and sheltering them, an expensive proposition for 60 dogs. The agency — which can be contacted through its website — gets its funding from fines against people who violate animal-cruelty laws and from private donations, he said.
Staff writer Dan Good contributed to this report.
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