A Town of Lockport resident and her daughter are facing as yet unspecified charges after Niagara County authorities said they discovered 343 animals – some of which are unlawful to keep as pets – in a home on Hamm Road.
Deputies accompanied the town's animal control officer and building inspector Tuesday to the Hamm Road property, with a warrant to search the premises for unlawfully kept animals, according to the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.
Inside they found an assortment of caged snakes, rats, birds and lizards, along with numerous cats and dogs, authorities said. According to the Sheriff's Office, there were some deceased animals found in the home.
The SPCA of Niagara removed 343 animals from the home – including ferrets, rabbits, quail, two tortoises and about 250 rats and mice.
The home's owner, Sue McNaught, and her daughter, Bethany, face charges under Article 26 of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, which requires providing proper care of animals under one's domain, SPCA of Niagara Executive Director Amy Lewis said. She said McNaught is the owner of Celtic Canine Motivational Dog Training, a dog training facility in Lockport.
A Lockport Town Court representative said no charges had been filed as of Friday morning.
Neighbors on Hamm Road said they had no idea there were so many animals inside the McNaughts' home.
Joseph Kurtz, who has lived next door for more than 20 years, called the McNaughts "great people" and said he was stunned to hear about what was found inside.
Kurtz said the McNaughts have looked after his 2-year-old St. Bernard named "Buddy" and have come over for barbecues.
"I only have good things to say" about them, he said.
Marilyn Behm, who lives two doors away, also said she was surprised to hear about how many animals were found inside the house.
Behm said she knew the family had about five dogs and some cats in the past. When Behm has taken her grandchildren trick-or-treating in her neighborhood in years past, Sue McNaught has brought a ferret to the door to show the children, she said.
The case is similar to one investigated by the SPCA 10 months ago in a home in Wilson, in which dozens of snakes, birds and other animals were seized in what was later determined to be a case of animal cruelty, Lewis said.
The animals seized Thursday in the Town of Lockport included many "exotics" whose health was compromised by neglect and living conditions in the house, Lewis said.
"Many of these animals had some medical conditions. The snakes are very thin and dehydrated because they were living in moldy enclosures...There were quite a bit of respiratory ailments with those," she said. "There was a hedgehog that had an infected wound on its head that had not been treated."
"And I've never in my life seen a skinny rat, but the rats were emaciated. They had withheld food for so long that they were actually cannibalizing one another," Lewis said.
The rats were kept as a food source for other animals, and several of them are pregnant. The SPCA does not use live food sources so the rats will be available for adoption, she said.
A veterinarian who specializes in reptiles is expected to visit the SPCA facility next week to help with the snakes, all of whom have had their enclosures cleaned and were given new bedding and a heat source.
The Sheriff's Office said Thursday the town's building inspector has condemned the residence and changed the locks.
In the past, the SPCA had received complaints alleging that McNaught had up to 15 dogs in the house. So, when the SPCA was alerted Tuesday about a large number of animals in the residence, the assumption was that it was mostly dogs.
"We had no idea that there were so many exotics in the home, as well," said Lewis.
McNaught and her daughter could not be reached Friday for comment.
Animals found at the house
- About 250 rats and mice
- 31 snakes
- 13 rabbits
- five ferrets
- two tortoises
- two Sun Conures
- one hedgehog
- unspecified number of cats, dogs, lizards, quail