Monday, January 25, 2010

Shelter head: Seized dogs in poor health

By Becky Campbell
Press Staff Writer

While animal control authorities were shuttling eight rescue dogs seized from a local doggy day care to a vet, a woman who worked there was being arraigned Friday for filing a false police report saying she was attacked at the business when someone broke in and stole 14 other rescue dogs.

Ashli N. Thomas, 24, is charged with filing a false report and eight counts of animal cruelty in an alleged stabbing and dog-napping incident at Cool School for Dogs on West Market Street that has twisted and turned with each new piece of information.

Thomas’ aunt and uncle, Brad and Tammara Josselyn, who own Cool School for Dogs, are also charged with eight counts of animal cruelty due to the condition of some of the animals at the day care.

It appears that the 14 dogs actually are missing, but that Thomas lied about being attacked as they were taken.

In a court document, a Johnson City Police investigator wrote that Thomas’ last account of what happened indicated the cut she received on her side was from a metal dog kennel rather than being stabbed as she first reported.

She told police that she made up the story of being attacked because she had left the dogs unattended and had not taken care of them properly.

Thomas worked for her aunt and uncle at their doggy day care for five years. And while her address is listed on court records as Newbern Drive — at the Josselyns’ residence — Thomas was living in an apartment at the day care.

Part of her duties included being at the day care overnight, which was one of the aspects of the day care the Josselyns promoted to their clients because boarded dogs were never supposed to be left unattended.

Early Tuesday morning, Thomas called 911 to report a break-in at the business and that she had been cut with a knife by a man who stole 14 dogs, most which were rescue animals awaiting new homes. Two of the missing dogs belong to Thomas.

When police arrived to investigate, they apparently found more than an alleged burglary. After clearing the scene, an officer asked the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Control Center to investigate possible cruelty and neglect at the day care.

Debbie Dobbs, director of the Animal Control Center, said she was shocked at the conditions she found there — especially since she has worked with the Josselyns to help place dogs in forever homes.

What makes her the most upset is that Dobbs sent at least four dogs to the Josselyns from the shelter so they could find homes through the rescue organization, Canine Hope Rescue, that Tammara Josselyn founded.

“We found deplorable conditions, some animals very malnourished and not doing very well,” Dobbs said, in addition to a strong smell of feces.

She said the Josselyns turned 23 rescue animals over to Animal Control. Eight of the dogs are particularly in poor health, she said.

“They’re very malnourished, very thin. Three or four have whip worms,” she said. “Mainly they haven’t been fed. They have continuously eaten the whole time they’ve been (at the shelter).”

Dobbs said she doesn’t know “how a person can do this. But I feel they’re good people, their hearts were in the right place. I think they got overwhelmed with too many animals, trying to rescue and take care of too many animals,” she said. “It’s a type of hoarding.”

Dobbs said she doesn’t know if animals boarded or at Cool School for day care were subjected to the same treatment.

“Where these animals were located, (the day care animals) had to pass the animals in crates to go outside to play,” she said, but added there was a straight path from the stairs through a room and into the backyard.

“Those animals left there wouldn’t have had contact with the severe filthiness,” she said. Dobbs said animals left inside the facility “for very long would come home with that stench on their coats.”

Dobbs said Animal Control will be looking for homes for the animals, but not until after the Josselyns go to court next week.

“Give us a call on Wednesday if you’re interested in fostering or adopting any of these animals,” she said.

She hopes to find homes quickly because such a large seizure “crams our spaces. We’re not going to put animals to sleep to make space for something like this,” she said.

Thomas is free on a $5,000 bond and is scheduled for a hearing in General Sessions Court Feb. 16. The Josselyns are due in court on Tuesday.