Despite dozens of complaints and a documented history of animal violations that stretches half a decade, Temecula animal control officials said that until Jan. 23 they never had the authority to stop Elisao Jimenez, 66, from creating what turned out to be one of the most gruesome animal cruelty scenes they have ever encountered, the North County Times reported.
Officials found 204 dead and decomposing animals and 115 feral cats and dogs at the home on Liefer Road. Those animals were later euthanized. Nine 5-week-old puppies were rescued.
Officers were alerted to the property after receiving a call that two vicious dogs were running loose at the address. When animal control officers arrived, packs of dogs were attacking each other and killing one of their own. About 70 dogs circled officers and threatened to attack, forcing authorities to kill them.
Records obtained from Temecula's animal control agency show officers responded to Jimenez's home numerous times but did little more than cite him for barking violations and for having too many dogs, the paper reported.
Jimenez was arrested by Temecula police on suspicion of animal cruelty. He posted bond on $5,000 bail and was released from jail.
For the full story read the North County Times article "Long History of Violations by Animal Owner."
TEMECULA: Long history of violations by animal owner-
TEMECULA ---- Despite dozens of complaints and a documented history of animal violations that stretches half a decade, Temecula and Riverside County animal control officials said that until Jan. 23 they never had the authority to stop Elisao Jimenez from creating what turned out to be one of the most gruesome animal cruelty scenes they have ever encountered.
More than 200 dead cats and dogs were found decomposing in plastic bags at Jimenez's Liefer Road residence in late January. Another 115 feral and disease-ridden animals were found alive but were later euthanized.
Several of Jimenez's neighbors, both past and present, said last week they had complained for years to animal control authorities about what sounded like packs of dogs barking at his residence, about vicious dogs running loose near their homes and about the shrill screams that sounded like Jimenez's dogs tearing one another apart.
Records obtained from Temecula's animal control agency show officers responded to Jimenez's home numerous times but did little more than cite him for barking violations and for having too many dogs.
Riverside County animal control records show officers responded largely the same way to complaints when Jimenez lived with numerous dogs in Aguanga.
Authorities say that's all they legally could do. Nearly every time they responded, their records show, they did not hear barking dogs and thus had no exigent circumstances, a life-threatening situation in which officers are allowed to enter a property.
"The laws protect these people," said Monqunec Middleton, the supervising animal control officer for Temecula. "(Jimenez) complied (by always paying his fines). We had no reason to enter his property."
A hole in Jimenez's Liefer Road fence changed everything Jan. 23.
Two large and vicious rottweiler-mix dogs had escaped through the hole and were running loose that Friday afternoon, up and down the dirt road on Temecula's northeast edge.
Temecula animal control officers chased the dogs back onto the 5-acre rural property and then were required to confront Jimenez about the fence, Middleton said. Up until then, animal control officers had always spoken to Jimenez, known by neighbors as "Tony" and described as very private, over the phone or in front of his locked gate, several hundred yards down a hill from his residence.
As the two officers knocked on the door to Jimenez's double-wide trailer, they felt the small porch they were standing on begin to vibrate.
"All the dogs in the house rushed to the door," Middleton said, recalling what her officers told her on the phone that afternoon. "He said he thinks there's hundreds of dogs in there."
He wasn't far off.
The two officers retreated from the residence and nine additional animal control staffers were called in.
They would spend the next several hours at one of the most horrific scenes authorities had ever discovered.
Bags of decomposing animals littered the property, the officers said. The ammonia from the urine-soaked trailer initially prevented officers from opening their eyes.
Forty-seven dogs were found alive inside the two-bedroom trailer, according to reports, and another 35 were found alive in kennels inside what Middleton described as a square "fortress" of chain link fencing wired tight to 6-foot-tall plywood boards.
No pet food was found save for a small bowl of cat food in a bathroom in the mobile home.
Shortly after arriving, officers said, they watched in horror as a pack of dogs killed one of their own, ripping it apart.
Jimenez, 66, was arrested that day by Temecula police on suspicion of animal cruelty. He posted bond on $5,000 bail Saturday and was released from jail the same day.
Jimenez is scheduled to be arraigned in late February, however the Riverside County district attorney's office has yet to formally charge him.
News of the grisly scene shocked some neighbors and enraged others. Several, including two who lived next to Jimenez at his previous residence in Aguanga, said they were saddened but not altogether surprised about what was found.
Between them, records show, the present and former neighbors had made dozens of complaints to animal control authorities over a decade.
"I called repeatedly," said Janet Allen, who can see Jimenez's residence from her backyard on Diego Drive. "I called and told them this is not normal barking. It sounds like they're killing each other. It sounds like there's 20 dogs over there."
Activity logs from the Animal Friends of the Valleys, the nonprofit that runs Temecula's animal shelter and serves as the city's animal enforcement, show that Allen called twice in 2007 and another neighbor called three times the same year.
All five times, animal control officers responded to the property. Each time, they found the gate locked and couldn't hear any barking. So, their logs show, they left notices for Jimenez to call them and then left.
Christine Todd was Jimenez's neighbor for about a decade in Aguanga, before Jimenez moved in 2006. Their homes were next door on White Mountain Road.
During that time, Todd estimates, she had at least 40 conversations with Riverside County Animal Services staff members about Jimenez's animals, including several talks with the department's supervisor, Lt. John Stephens.
Only fines, Todd said, were ever handed out to Jimenez.
"Nobody seemed to be interested in preventing him from breeding animals or doing the full seizure that needed to be done," said Todd, who runs an animal grooming business in Temecula.
Neighbors on White Mountain Road and animal control staff found upwards of 40 dogs on the property when Jimenez left. Several were dead.
"We said when he left, the same thing's going to happen again," added Joe Pulido, also a White Mountain Road neighbor.
Pulido, like several neighbors reached for comment, said he felt animal control officers had their hands tied when it came to preventing the conditions Jimenez created.
In an interview Friday, Lt. Stephens said he remembers Jimenez well, calling him "your typical (animal) hoarder."
He said he inspected Jimenez's property several times. And while he often found more dogs than allowed ---- residents in Temecula and unincorporated Riverside County are limited to four dogs, unless they have a kennel permit ---- the animals never appeared abused or malnourished, Stephens said.
"We really had no authority to take 'em," the lieutenant said, adding that Jimenez was always cooperative and paid his fines. "There was never anything in that bad a shape up there. Believe me, we would have loved to have moved on the guy to get rid of the complaints."
Stephens said there is no amount of animal citations that triggers a search of a property, something he acknowledged officials should consider implementing.
Back in Temecula, on a warm, windy afternoon last week, neighbor Janet Allen offered a plan of action.
"There should be something done to give (animal control officers) more authority to investigate when someone says there's dogs in danger," she said.
"Something needs to be changed," Allen added. "I would love to see that happen from this tragedy. Maybe something good can come from it."
Contact staff writer Chris Nichols at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 5426, or email@example.com