Humane Society helping dogs get back on their feet

Woman charged with cruelty after animals found in two homes

May 17, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Amid a cacophony of barking, and as volunteers at the Harford County Humane Society cut blankets into squares and cleaned food bowls, a shy terrier was learning to walk again.

His name is Hope, and he is one of about 70 animals, taken in by the shelter, that police say had been living in squalid conditions until being rescued last week from two homes in Whiteford.

For an undetermined amount of time, Hope was confined to a small cage and took to leaning on his right side. When officials found him, the muscles in his hind legs and one front leg had atrophied, and yesterday two society employees worked to help him regain the ability to walk.

"A lot of them have trouble walking, but he's the worst," said Kelly Austin, 23, who led Hope on a leash as technician Misty Evanshine helped support his backside.

Late Monday, Donna Lee Bell was arrested and charged with 118 counts of animal cruelty, for each animal in the home. Bell, 59, posted a $5,000 bond and was released yesterday. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 90 days and a $1,000 fine.

Harford authorities were alerted Thursday after a report of a foul smell coming from a home in the 2900 block of Whiteford Road. According to a police report, Bell later opened a padlocked garage for authorities, where a dozen large dogs were kept in cages with little or no food and water.

Authorities found about 120 dogs - at least 40 dead - and some cats living in two homes owned by Bell. Many were caged; others roamed amid carcasses and piles of feces.

The animals were taken to the Humane Society in Fallston, a collection of former residential houses on a green hill. With the facility at nearly double its capacity, officials converted a barn used for meetings into a makeshift shelter for the Whiteford dogs and gave them names to help keep track of them.

Some are playful, clean and relatively healthy. They trot around in outdoor cages and lick at the faces of volunteers.

"They went from being very shy and very scared to being delightful little creatures," said Tammy Zaluzney, the society's executive director. "The more they're in the fresh air and sunshine, with grass under their feet, they're blossoming."

Others, like Stevie, shiver and have a blank stare. Their bodies are covered with sores, likely from fleas. Baxter, a beagle, tries to bark but emits a high-pitched whistle like a locomotive. A few are blind, their eyes a chalky white. One dog is missing a leg.

Officials said it was difficult to know whether the dogs developed their conditions in the homes, though many exhibit eye and ear problems thought to result from the filthy homes' acrid air.

Zaluzney said volunteers have been streaming in since Friday with food and other supplies. Because the dogs are in the habit of defecating in their cages, officials say the greatest needs are for blankets and carpets for the cages.

"With 69 dogs, [the blankets and carpets] get used pretty quickly," she said.

Many people have inquired about adopting the pets, but Zaluzney said Bell's case must be resolved first. The society issued an urgent plea yesterday for temporary foster homes and plans three foster-care orientations within the next week.

Police said it appears that the animals might have lived alone at the homes, and that Bell might have presented herself as an animal rescue worker to acquire them. She was arrested at the home of her estranged husband in Essex on Monday night, police said. Reached by telephone yesterday, Bell declined to comment.

In Fallston, volunteers lingered for hours, walking the dogs.

In a grassy field dotted with dandelions, sisters Mary Karlin, 10, and Rachel Geissler, 8, of Bel Air took Jenni, a shepherd, for a walk. They donated all of their savings - $50 from their lemonade stand - to the society.

"I really like animals, and I just felt bad that they don't have a home," Mary said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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