Last summer, Animal Humane Society agent Wade Hanson received a bunch of calls from Stacy, Minnesota. Neighbors suspected that a mysterious couple was running some sort of horror house filled with dozens of dogs.
They could hear them through the walls. But they never saw them being taken out for walks.
Hanson went to check it out. He found a shed filled with dirty poodles and other large dogs stuck in cages, their fur severely matted. There was no ventilation. The ammonia smell nearly knocked him off his feet.
In the garage were dozens of tiny terriers, living in plastic pet carriers stacked along a wall.
The owners barred him from entering the house since he didn't have a search warrant. All he could do was tell them to clean up and find new homes for the dogs because Chisago County allowed a maximum of three to a household. They agreed, explaining that they'd already found people who were committed to adopting the whole fleet, but they just hadn't come to pick up yet.
Hanson set a deadline for the couple to clear out their home, then applied for a warrant to search the entire property. When he returned, he found that they'd made a run for it.
Later, Hanson's partner Keith Streff received some complaints about dog hoarding in Maplewood. The neighbors had seen a couple move dozens of pet carriers into the house — the last anyone ever saw of the animals.
Streff called Maplewood Police, who ordered the couple to get the dogs new homes. Again the couple tried to placate the police, saying the dogs were about to be adopted. He and Hanson put two and two together: It was the same family that had eluded them in Stacy.
Lo and behold, they went on the lam again, to Sandstone, where they were betrayed by another neighbor. Hanson drove up, and discovered the man living there with about 60 dogs. Hanson confiscated 53 in February and confirmed the rest were actually being adopted, clearing out the Sandstone house.
With more digging, he discovered that the woman had stashed 42 more dogs back at the second home in Maplewood. On Wednesday, the Humane Society took them too.
"The big thing is they were selling dogs, or trying to sell dogs," Hanson says. "There's also that mental illness, the hoarder mentality to where they don't think that anybody can care for these animals as well as they can, and they just don't wanna get rid of them."
He says the couple have properties in Rush City, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Humane Society hasn't been able to locate those houses yet, but there could be dogs stockpiled there as well, he says.
On a scale from one to 10 rating the most upsetting hoarding cases he's investigated, Hanson says the tri-city hoarder couple would score only a five. Horse hoarding tends to be much worse, because they're bigger animals that require more food, more space, and care.
The dogs are now living at all five of the Humane Society's Minnesota shelters. They're a bit socially awkward, but they seem to be running around and enjoying their emancipation, Hanson says.
Once the investigation is finalized, the couple may be charged with animal cruelty. There's not much in the books to keep them from acquiring more pets right now. In the long run, they could get barred from having animals for up to one year.