Belen A woman living on Belen's west mesa has been charged with 30 counts of animal cruelty and 29 counts each of failure to provide proof of rabies vaccinations and county animal licenses.
The criminal complaint, sworn out by County Animal Control Officer David Pacheco, says that Terri Wilson's failure to provide adequate food and veterinary care to 30 animals in her care resulted in the death of at least one dog.
The remaining 29 animals, including two cats, were taken into custody by Valencia Animal Control on Friday, Jan. 23, after a search and seizure warrant was signed by Magistrate John "Buddy" Sanchez.
"The warrant was to explore the property and remove any animals because our investigation showed these animals were in dire need," said County Shelter Director Eric Tanner in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Tanner described the condition of the animals as emaciated due to severe malnutrition. "They were in various degrees of lack of care," he said. "They were not all in the same, identical condition."
According to County Code Enforcement Director Ruben Chavez, animal control answered a complaint at Wilson's west mesa property approximately a week ago.
"The officer observed that some of the animals were undernourished," he said. "He instructed her that she needed to provide adequate food to all the animals and to get veterinary care for them."
Chavez said the department gave Wilson a few days to rectify the situation, but when the officer went back out to the property last Friday it quickly became evident the animals were in much worse condition than originally thought.
"On Friday, upon closer examination, we realized more were in really bad shape," he said. "We requested the warrant from the court around 10 a.m. and went out and seized the animals.
While on site, Chavez said the officers noticed what appeared to be old burial locations and one new grave. "They took the animal from the new grave for necropsy," he said. "A vet came in to examine the rest of the animals as we brought them into the shelter."
The veterinarian's report as well as the results of the necropsy have been returned to animal control as evidence in the case, Chavez said. "If she obtains an attorney, when that attorney files a discovery motion, then those reports become public," he said. "Until then, we can't release them."
Chavez noted that the charges filed against Wilson were not for severe animal cruelty. "We did not feel that what she did was intentional," he said. "We think, in this situation, things just got to be too much for her to handle."
After the animals were inspected at the shelter, Chavez said about a dozen of them were fostered with local licensed rescue groups. "Right now our concern is for the care of the animals," he said.
Tanner said the animals that are with rescue operations are the more medically severe cases. "They can provide the 24-hour medical care for these animals that we can't at the shelter," he said. "Until the case is resolved, these animals cannot be put up for adoption. The ones at the shelter are being kept out of the public eye."
The case has been assigned to Magistrate Tina Gallegos, and no arraignment date has been set. Chavez said the department has asked that the case be expedited so the animals can be adopted as soon as possible.