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.
"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.