published Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

19 dogs taken from overheated trailer

  • photo
    A Chihuahua is moved to McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center after being rescued from a trailer off Hixson Pike.
    Staff Photo by Jenna Walker

Nineteen quiet but frightened Chihuahuas sniffed the air timidly as they were unloaded one by one from McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center trucks Monday afternoon.

The dogs, rescued earlier in the afternoon from a trailer in Hixson where a kerosene heater had raised the temperature to 101 degrees Fahrenheit, represent a case of animal hoarding, according to Karen Walsh, McKamey's executive director.

"The dogs may look normal, but because of ammonia issues [from living in excrement] they may have internal problems that you don't notice right off the bat. There were feces and urine all over the floors," she said. "And some of these dogs have nails way too long, two have eye issues and ear issues."

The dogs' owners, Winston Andrew O'Dell and Tonya Middleton, tell a different story.

"I love my dogs to death, and I'm going to do whatever I got to do to get my dogs back," O'Dell said. "I think McKamey sticks their noses where they don't belong."

Describing the animals as being like his children, he said he choked back tears at what he saw when he arrived home to find McKamey workers bringing the dogs out of the trailer "on rabies poles by the necks and legs."

"It breaks my heart," he said in a low voice. "I told them I would go in and bring them out for them, but I was told by McKamey workers and Chattanooga police that I couldn't go into my own house."

O'Dell was charged Monday with 96 violations of the city's animal ordinance: one count of failing to obtain a breeder's license and 19 counts each of barking, neglect, unsanitary conditions, not obtaining rabies shots and not obtaining city tags for his dogs.

The 47-year-old cab driver said he is in the process of moving, and the power had been cut off at the trailer.

"But I go up there every night to take care of them. I clean up and feed and water them and clean up the house after them," O'Dell said.


1 count failure to obtain a breeder's license

19 counts neglect

19 counts unsanitary conditions

19 counts failure to obtain rabies shots

19 counts failure to obtain city tags

19 counts barking

Source: McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center

Walsh calls it a typical case of animal hoarding, but she acknowledged that outdoor temperature increases may have caught O'Dell by surprise and he probably didn't intend for the trailer to be so hot.

"But it was, and that puts them at significant risk," she said.

She said animal hoarding is an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder, and the center usually encounters two or three major cat hoarding situations a year.

But dog hoarding cases are more rare, McKamey officials said.

"This is our first dog one in two years," Walsh said.

Jay Nicholson, the animal control officer who worked O'Dell's case, agreed.

"And people usually don't tell on them," Nicholson said "They [usually] just say, 'Oh, that's old Joe. He's got 20 dogs.'"

Walsh said the fact that this case was reported indicates that pet shows on television may be having an educational impact.

"TV shows ... people what these sorts of situations are so they know what they're looking at, where before, [they just thought] you were the crazy cat lady," Walsh said.

O'Dell and Middleton said Monday evening that they never intended to have so many dogs.

"When the first pair bred and had puppies, we sold them quick, but after a while when some didn't sell, we got attached, and we just kept them," O'Dell said.

The situation snowballed, he said.

Middleton blamed losing the dogs on a neighbor who, she said, has called McKamey with complaints 37 times.

  • photo
    Josh Vipond handles one of the rescued Chihuahuas at the McKamey Animal Rescue and Adoption Center.
    Staff Photo by Jenna Walker

"She would come over and beat on the wall and get in her car and rev the motor," Middleton said. "Well, dogs bark."

The owner of the trailer O'Dell rented served eviction papers on him Monday. She said she had been trying to get him evicted since August.

"I went in the trailer after McKamey took the dogs out," said Sherry Presley, property owner and manager of the 68 trailers in RiverGlen Community Homes.

"It was horrible. It just reeked of dog [waste]," she said. "I was furious today. It was a brand new home, and it's ruined. We have to do a total remodel."

Walsh said this is not O'Dell's first clash with McKamey.

Just last week the center won a default judgment against O'Dell on 12 similar counts after O'Dell didn't comply with an earlier court order to have all of the dogs spayed and neutered. On that court date, he failed to appear in court to show he had followed the order.

He said he couldn't be in court because he was in jail on other charges.

Walsh said animal control officers were called back on more complaints after that, and on Monday officers issued the new charges after finding 19 dogs — not 12 — there in blazing heat.

Walsh said the Chihuahuas will be held until O'Dell's court date, which is Feb. 24.

"If the judge awards them to us, it will depend on their condition what happens to them after that," she said.

If the dogs are not well socialized they may wind up in Chihuahua rescue services. If they are healthy and friendly, they will be adopted out, she said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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senyahc said...

I am disgusted by this. I understand that the people had a mental disorder, and that they were doing all they could do with limited resources, but to let dogs suffer this way, in a freaking trailer, is beyond humane. I hope that they get to clean the trailer, live in it, and are never afforded the opportunity to adopt another pet again. Thank god the neighbor didn't give up with her phone calls! She is a hero!

February 15, 2011 at 7:05 a.m.
dave said...

Maybe they could have turned the heater down instead of stealing these peoples property and making such a big deal about their chattel. What a load of crap is being foisted on the people of Chattanooga with all this Mckamey "stuff". They are DOGS! not kids. Their are thousands of children suffering much more in Chattanooga...this is a waste of money and resources that should be directed in helping people first!

February 15, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.
tazzy said...

That is exactly why Tennessee is one of the worst states for animal cruelty. The dogs cannot speak for their selves and the mindset of the people here are that the dogs are just a piece of property, to do what ever they want with instead of creatures of God and to be treated as such. After all is this not called the so called "Bible Belt"?

February 15, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.
codyman said...

tazzy - you are so right! God's Creatures and Bible Belt - maybe someone should explain that to these ignorant "animal lovers" and good "Christians"!

February 15, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.
jimbob said...

dave, you just reminded me. The more people I meet the better I like my dog.

February 15, 2011 at 1:13 p.m.
BabyD said...

Glad I'm not Daves pet

February 15, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.
thedogtrainer said...

1) If hoarding is an illness, why is this person being charged with a crime? 2) Since when is long toenails and a "Perceived" internal issue(not yet diagnosed, probably never will be diagnosed) a crime or against the law? 3) Other than a clean up crew and some baths, these dogs look just fine and should have been left with the owner---Offer him the opportunity to speuter his animals, and help him clean up his life and home. Gee, what ever happened to humanity and christian love and compassion? 4) It's against the law for dogs to bark? Wow....Can there be a new law banning kids and stupid people from speaking?

February 15, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.
lovinglife said...

I know her she was getting them all spayed and nutered. She use to work at a vet. Everytime I had ever went to her house it was clean and never smelt bad I do not know what it was like the day they came out. I had not visited thier home in months but known her for a long time and never seen it like they are saying. Her dogs were always clean. Tennessee law is 20 or more females you have to get breeders license so I do not understand why they are charging her with no breeders license when she did not have 19 females. They have been picking on her for sometime now because of neighbors complaining about dogs barking she was working with them and getting shots and tags along with spay and nutering. Sometimes a kerosene heater will make things to hot I am sure she turned it off when it did. She is no Mental case she just loved her dogs and happen to get a lot not like she wasnt trying to get things done. If she can not afford to do it all then she should get a couple back that she can afford cause they were not neglected when I seen them.

February 15, 2011 at 4:56 p.m.
tazzy said...

Wildman A dog is the only thing on earth that will love you more than you love yourself. A quote from Abe Lincoln ,"I care not for a man's religion who's dog and cat are not the better for it."

February 15, 2011 at 6:50 p.m.
BabyD said...

When Wildman gets old and can't take care of himself just as the dogs couldn't take care of themselves, lets just shoot him too

February 16, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.
olistephe said...

I agree that the woman who brought attention to the situation is a hero to those animals. I also think that their are people in any area who view animals as property. It comes from living in an agricultural area. However, people need to understand the difference in an animal and someone's pet. I do have to say shame on you Sherry Presley! You go in after Mckamey and all you can say is "poor me" for the remodel work you will have to do?! What about the 19 most likely inbred animals living in their own excrement? Thank goodness this wasn't the worst case! If the heat had been on longer then you would have to worry about not only inbreeding but also cannibalism. For once Mckamey did the right thing. Even though they never win a court case.

February 16, 2011 at 9:13 p.m.
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February 21, 2011 at 1:05 p.m.
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