A rural Riverside County kennel that caters to military families kept dogs in feces-filled squalor, lost a client’s dog, let a canine’s open wounds fester and allowed a horse to starve to death, animal control officials allege.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 25, affirmed animal control officials’ decision not to renew Military Mutts Ranch’s kennel license. The kennel is in the unincorporated community of Aguanga, between Temecula and Hemet.
Ranch owner Charlotte Orrin appealed the Department of Animal Services’ decision and pleaded with the board to let her stay in business as she accused animal control employees of harassment. Orrin also argued that conditions at her ranch, which failed inspection in January, weren’t as wretched as portrayed.
Orrin said she was inspired to start the ranch, which got its kennel permit in 2018, after encountering a tearful, soon-to-be deployed service member who said he’d have to put his dogs down because he couldn’t afford to board them.
“I don’t abuse and neglect animals. I do this because I care about our soldiers,” Orrin said. “Without this, I have no home. I have no car. I (have) no way to feed me. I have staff that are second chancers. They’ve been in trouble. They work for me. This could shut all that down.”
Erin Gettis, the county’s animal services director, described a filthy kennel that neglected animals and ran afoul of state and county rules.
Gettis alleged that a December 2021 inspection found clogged drains “causing pooling of washed down urine and feces in the walkway of (the) kennel with (a) strong odor of urine and feces.”
An early May inspection found more watered-down feces and urine, Gettis said. Orrin said her kennels are cleaned twice a day, adding that her employee “works his (rear) off to get those places clean.”
The ranch was licensed to board 30 dogs, but on three occasions, it had more than 30 and twice, it had 60, Gettis said.
A necropsy determined a dead horse at the ranch died of starvation, Gettis said, adding that Orrin’s personal horse, Chester, was underweight and malnourished.
“We didn’t stop feeding the horses,” Orrin said, adding she did research and learned “there is some type of virus going around (the county) that describes these horses as losing weight and depressed even though they eat …”
Gettis alleged that Orrin failed to seek medical treatment for a dog whose wounds became severely infected and maggot infested. Orrin said the dog got caught in a fence, a veterinarian’s office said its wounds weren’t life threatening and that she “took care of it as soon as I could, at my expense.”
The hearing featured testimony from several witnesses, including Grace Turner, who said she dropped off her three dogs at the ranch in late April.
When she came to pick them up May 2, Turner said she only got two dogs back.
“They were covered in feces and urine and had no signs of being taken care of,” Turner said.
Turner said she searched the ranch for her missing dog and found areas where dogs could escape. Dogs looked “dirty, malnourished and unhappy” and “my eyes watered because of the overpowering smell of feces and urine,” Turner said.
“The floors were caked with feces and urine … each dog was covered in feces and urine and flies were swarming them,” she added. “I saw four to five large-breed dogs shoved into kennels that were meant for one dog. They were climbing on top of each other because they were in a high-stress situation.”
Orrin said someone broke into her house and took Turner’s dog, which was indoors “because he was small … I apologize. I don’t know what else I could have done.”
The ranch, Gettis alleged, also failed to provide rabies certificates for dogs in its care and animal services has taken reports of dogs at the ranch attacking livestock and coming home with wounds and ringworm.
While “I would applaud someone who wants to take care of animals … when you take on that responsibility, then it comes with a whole host of things that you’re required to do,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said.
“In our society, we’ve long since recognized and accepted that animal cruelty (and) animal neglect is not acceptable,” Washington added.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries asked what would happen to dogs at the ranch, especially those owned by deployed service members.
“I just just want to make sure somebody’s not going to get stuck with a huge bill that they can’t afford to pay on military pay,” he said.
Gettis said animal services will craft a plan for the animals’ care.
“There are a number of owners that have already reached out to us asking for the outcome of this case today so that they can make plans for their dogs,” she said.
Orrin must wait a year from Tuesday before applying for a new kennel license.
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