NIAGARA FALLS – Conditions in the apartment were so unsanitary that Niagara Falls firefighters wore air masks to enter it Thursday.
Inside, the Niagara County SPCA seized 25 small-breed dogs – 16 adult dogs and nine puppies ranging from 2 weeks old to 2 years old.
Lauren Zaninovich, an animal cruelty investigator for the SPCA, said she had “never been in a home where the ammonia levels were so high.”
Surprisingly there was someone in the apartment, one of two units in a house. Officials said Robert Warren, 47, of 429 10th St., had been living in conditions that had officers’ eyes tearing up and leaning out the windows to get fresh air.
Warren faces animal neglect charges for allegedly keeping the dogs in unsanitary conditions and failing to provide wholesome air for confined animals. He also faces charges on two city ordinances for failure to license the animals, violating the number of animals allowed in one dwelling and failing to vaccinate the animals for rabies. A court date was set for May 18.
Niagara Falls Police Animal Control Officer David J. Bower said Warren’s body had apparently adjusted to the ammonia levels, but he said if Warren had stayed inside the apartment much longer it could have been deadly.
“He told me it was a puppy mill and admitted that he had six litters going at one time.” Bower said. He had reportedly been trying to sell the mixed breed dogs and puppies for $1,500 to $2,500 each.
“We are not sure whose mom is whose. I guess they all have been sharing children,” said Niagara County SPCA Director Amy Lewis. She said three of the lactating adult female poodles will be kept with the puppies, which are still too small to adopt.
“We have some cockapoos that we suspect may be pregnant as well,” said Lewis.
Lewis, who refrained from using the term puppy mill, said Warren “was certainly pumping them out with six females pregnant at one time. He certainly was a breeder ... and anything over 25 dogs a year has to be reported to New York Ags and Markets so they can come in and inspect. He was flying under the radar. He has 25 in his home and has six females pregnant at one time.”
Bower said they learned of the problem when police went to investigate an alarm last week and heard dogs barking. The ordinance allows for only two dogs in a home in the city. Bower said he went to investigate on Wednesday he could immediately smell the urine and feces from outside.
“I looked in the window and could see 10 dogs right there,” said Bower. He said Warren came to the door and admitted to having seven. The noise and the smell prompted a search warrant, which was served on Thursday morning.
The house was condemned by the building inspector until it is cleaned out.
Lewis said when officers returned for the dogs, “the smell hit you like a brick wall.”
“The dogs were caked with urine and feces,” said Lewis.
“The house was sealed up. You would think with the warmer weather he would have had the windows open,” said Zaninovich. “I made it to the second floor to open up a bathroom window, but I had to lean out the window just to get air. Other officers ran downstairs and were spitting, because it just gets in your mouth. It’s very overwhelming. Your eyes immediately water. It was going right through our ventilation masks.”
She said the Niagara Falls Fire Department was brought in, wearing air masks, to open windows and put in circulating fans to give them a fresh air supply.
All of the dogs were signed over and will be available for adoption after they are evaluated at the SPCA of Niagara. They were all bathed and appeared healthy, but some will need dental work, said Lewis. She said mothers with puppies and pregnant dogs will be put into foster homes until they are ready to be adopted.
Within hours of the SPCA of Niagara posting news of the seizure on its website, nearly 45 people signed up to adopt one of the dogs, but Zaninovich said anyone interested in adopting one of the dogs should contact the SPCA of Niagara at 731-4368 and ask to be placed on the waiting list for adoption. Breeds available include poodles, cocker spaniel/poodle mixes, schnauzer/poodle mixes and daschund/poodle mixes.
The cost to adopt the dogs will be $350 for adults, plus additional fees for any that need medical work, and $450 for puppies, which includes spaying or neutering.