More than 25 dogs were seized by Madera County Animal Control Friday, after concerned residents reported the animals starving and suffering in cages in the backyard of a residence in the16000 block of Camden Drive.
Melanie L. Sanchez Chamberlain, 36, is now potentially facing felony charges of animal cruelty, according to Animal Services Director Kirsten Gross.
Sanchez Chamberlain also goes by the name of Melanie Chamberlain online to fund raise and possibly to conceal her multiple local arrest records, according to authorities.
"These animals were found in horrendous conditions. This is animal cruelty at it's worst. Emaciated - with backbones and hip bones showing. One small dog had an old untreated leg fracture with a dangling leg and large open wound. They were all standing in filthy, small, 2 x 3 foot crates, in their own feces, out in the sun and 100 degree temperatures. Others were found under makeshift tarps, some without food or water," Gross said.
About half the dogs were in such poor condition they were immediately taken to a local vet for examination and care to stabilize them. Gross estimated it took months of inadequate food and care for the dogs to become so emaciated.
The dogs squeaked, clawed at their cages and eagerly greeted the animal control officers as they were removed from their confinement.
Sanchez Chamberlain had been contacted by Animal Control on previous occasions, Gross said, and had recently been found with most of the same dogs in poor conditions while living at an abandoned house in the 18000 block of El Paso.
"What's worse is Sanchez Chamberlain was reportedly operating on Facebook and raising money on other sites with her 'Love Me, Don't Leave Me' rescue, allegedly a non profit, no kill animal rescue group and collecting money - while these dogs were suffering and being tormented probably for months and months, in these awful conditions. Nothing could have been farther from the truth (of an appropriate animal rescue group)," Gross said.
About 15 adult and young pitbull mixes were found and the rest were small and medium terrier mixes. A litter of puppies was found hidden in the debris of a shed at the abandoned house.
Sanchez Chamberlain may have been collecting strays or unwanted dogs from the public, all the while apparently homeless herself. Local police records show four previous arrests for Sanchez Chamberlain for narcotics, burglary and one for child endangerment.
Gross said the public should be very cautious about who they give animals to and should not believe everything they see online about animal rescue groups.
Sanchez Chamberlain's Facebook rescue page had happy photos of healthy animals playing on green grassy lawns, and a fake state EIN, a number that is required to operate a non profit group in California, according to Gross.
"Please donate only to local rescue groups you know, or can verify. Without proper resources for care and the facilities all these pseudo rescues are doing is collecting (animals) and putting them in worse situations than where they came from. Some of these people initially mean well, but quickly become overwhelmed. It's also symptom of hoarding." she said.
Gross said it appeared most of the dogs would survive, but the majority had months of recovery ahead of them.
"The dogs will be held here and then some sent to our legitimate rescue partners who are willing to invest their time, effort and money assisting in their recovery, vet care and their eventual placements," Gross said.
Gross encouraged the public to promptly report any animals they might see in poor conditions. "Please report abuse, neglect or cruelty when you see it ... the animals are counting on you."
Donations to help with the dogs veterinary care, recovery and transport can be sent to The Friends of Madera Animal Shelter volunteer group at PO Box 923, Madera CA 93639, or at http://www.gofundme.com/2pwf8z8a.