Julie Fine, NBC 5 News
Hundreds of dogs are rescued in Denton County from an apparent case of animal neglect. They were sized from a home near Celina, operating as the Animal Guardians of America.
At least 200 dogs living in conditions Denton County deputies described as horrendous were removed from an animal rescue Thursday.
The dogs were seized from Animal Guardians of America in the 16000 block of Celina Road near Celina after the sheriff's office received a complaint about animal neglect.
Deputies said they found dogs in various stages of neglect and possible physical abuse when they arrived at about 7 a.m.
The sheriff's office obtained additional criminal search warrants and, by the afternoon, the Humane Society of North Texas was on site to help remove the animals.
Denton County Sheriff Will Travis said many of the dogs were kept in small cages inside various enclosures on the property. The smell inside each one, including the home on the property, was unbearable and the cages were covered in filth and feces, he said.
"These are all pretty much large animals that she's gotten from other people or that she's taken in or just been strays of some sort but, like I said, it's the worst I've ever seen," Travis said.
The homeowner was on the property while several of the animals were removed but declined to comment.
Requests for comment to Animal Guardians of America headquarters in Plano were not immediately answered.
Melissa Kelley, who said she volunteered at property, said the seizure was a long time coming.
"This has been going on for eight years out here," she said. "I was out here six years ago, and she's always had 200-plus dogs."
"There was poop everywhere. Dogs were living in crates. They were being fed every other day," she said. "We saw nine dogs die out here in a year and a half."
Kelley said she personally has rescued three dogs from the site and has worked with other former volunteers for years to get the dogs taken away from the owner.
Two others finally were able to get pictures from inside the shelter to the sheriff, which she credits for finally spurring the seizure.
Kelley said she believes the owner started the rescue with good intentions but simply got overwhelmed.
"It's a hoarder," she said. "Your heart is big, and it gets too big, and it is hard to say no, but you have to."
The animals are now in the care of the Humane Society. About 65 are at a Fort Worth facility.
"We had known that this case was coming for a little while now," said Peggy Brown, Humane Society spokeswoman. "It was in the process, so we planned ahead."
The other dogs were taken to a shelter in Johnson County because the Fort Worth facility did not have enough room.
Every dog will be evaluated by a veterinarian.
"Unless the owner surrenders them to us, we have to go to court and get custody of them," Brown said. "It will be at least a couple of weeks before they are ready to go up for adoption, if and when."
After the evaluations, the sheriff's office will decide what, if any, charges will be pursued, Travis said.
The property is outside of the city limits, so no ordinance regulates how many animals can be kept, but 200 is "a lot to keep," Travis said.
NBC 5's Julie Fine contributed to this report.