WILSON — The SPCA of Niagara seized dozens of snakes, birds and other animals from a Wilson home Tuesday evening, charging it was a case of animal cruelty.
But the residents denied the allegations, saying the animals were left over from an exotic animal business.
Robyn Dawe, 59, of Beebe Road, said her daughter Maria Dawe, 21, had operated the exotic animal business, and that's why there were so many animals in the house.
"It's been slowed down for the past year, just to take a break from everything. A business partner of mine who was not taking care of his animals, I just got those animals back from him, which were the snakes and a lot of the birds, while I was trying to get back on my feet, trying to take care of them as best I could," Maria Dawe said. "It was a little overwhelming, that's why it was very unorganized, but I was taking care of them to the best of my ability. Nobody was underfed, nobody was underwatered."
SPCA Executive Director Amy L. Lewis said misdemeanor charges will be lodged for failing to provide proper sustenance and veterinary care.
"We haven't counted the animals yet, there were so many of them," Lewis said. "I would say at least 100 snakes, probably at least 200 rats and mice, at least 40 to 50 birds and two miniature pigs."
Maria Dawe said the numbers were closer to 50 snakes and 25 to 30 birds.
"The story got pretty twisted around. It was a bit exaggerated," she said.
Robyn Dawe blamed a neighbor for getting her into trouble with the SPCA.
"We received a complaint that animals weren't being well cared for," Lewis said.
An officer from the SPCA interviewed Dawe early Tuesday afternoon, but was finally asked to leave.
The officer returned with a search warrant.
There are four children in the home, ages 14 to 17, the Dawes said.
Robyn Dawe said she already had appearance tickets for child endangerment and failing to check animal traps on her property. She said the traps were placed on her property by a neighbor without her knowledge.
She signed over the seized animals to the SPCA.
Lewis said the animals were taken to the organization's shelter to be inventoried and cared for, a process she expected to take well into the early hours on Wednesday.
Robyn Dawe said she begged the SPCA not to take four parrots that her husband, who has serious heart problems, plays with daily. The birds were left behind, but Dawe said the SPCA could take them Friday if they are dissatisfied with the conditions on a return visit.
The snakes were kept in Rubbermaid totes, Lewis said. They included pythons, corn snakes and boa constrictors, with a couple of king snakes. Most were about two feet long, but there were a couple of 8-footers, Lewis said.
A few dead snakes, mice and rats were removed. Lewis said the mice and rats were being raised to be fed to the snakes, but Robyn Dawe said several of them were unusual types and could have been pets.
Lewis said the SPCA will try to offer the animals for adoption.
"I'm certainly hoping the market's big. We don't want to hold onto them long-term," Lewis said.