When animal rescue workers and police entered two northern Harford County homes this month, they were horrified at what they found: dozens of dogs, many dead, in cages or roaming amid carcasses and feces.
Now, the owner of the pets is demanding that they be returned.
Facing 118 counts of animal cruelty, Donna Lee Bell, 59, filed a complaint yesterday in Harford County District Court alleging that the animals were "unlawfully and wrongly" taken from her home and that she is entitled to "immediate possession" of them. A hearing was set for June 23.
Known in local animal rescue circles as a caregiver, Bell was arrested May 15 after authorities found about 120 dogs - at least 40 of them dead - and some cats in two homes she owns in the 2900 block of Whiteford Road.
The animals were taken to the Harford Humane Society in Fallston, where officials planned to find temporary foster homes for the dogs until the charges against Bell are resolved.
Some dogs had atrophied muscles, and many were infested with fleas. Officials said the animals had been kept in cages in Bell's homes for weeks or months.
Bell refused comment when reached by telephone yesterday, but in her complaint she wrote that she had tried to get the animals back. "The request was refused," she wrote.
More details have emerged about Bell's past housing of animals. Richard Lynch, Harford's director of inspections, license and permits, told The Sun yesterday that animal control officers visited one of Bell's properties in February of 2002 but did not issue a citation.
At that time, animal control officers noted that Bell had 16 unlicensed dogs on the property and told her to reduce the number or apply for a kennel license. A subsequent visit found that she was in compliance, Lynch said.