NJ woman, two others, stand trial for abusing 60 dogs at a rescue

After two years the trial is finally underway for a South Jersey woman, her companion and their daughter, accused of abusing more than 60 dogs in their care.

The dogs found in the Middle Township home were "living in a piles of feces, puddles of urine and infested with fleas," said assistant prosecutor Christine Smith last week in Superior Court.

Defense attorneys said Thomas and Scheld were trying to save the animals from a high-kill shelter in North Carolina and that there was no evidence they purposefully harmed the animals, according to a report in the Press of Atlantic City.

"My client's purpose was to save the animals from  certain death," said Robert Pinizotto, who is representing Thomas.

Also charged is their daughter, Leann Thomas.

When authorities raided the property in December 2010, they found 60 dogs, two cats, and one mourning dove living in filthy conditions on her six-acre property where she ran SOS Rescue and Rehabilitation.

When agents arrived, most of the animals were living in their own waste, a number of them in outside pens with insufficient shelter, little evidence of food, and frozen water. Most were suffering from some kind of illness, and many were in serious condition, officials said.

Agents dug up the bodies of six dogs on the property.

Scheld regularly transported dogs to her property from a high-kill shelter in Robeson County, North Carolina's poorest county - ostensibly for adoption - and was on her way back with nine dogs and four puppies when agents arrived at her house.

Scheld's sister turned over the four puppies, which were diagnosed with parvovirus - a highly contagious and often fatal disease.

An investigation was launched in July 2010 after one buyer, Christine Guzman, of Egg Harbor Township, contacted the NJ SPCA because a puppy she purchased for $175 had a contagious disease that required medical treatment.

“This is a case about money and the defendants’ desire to make money by selling dogs out of their home in Middle Township,” Smith said.

Defense attorney Nathan Perry said the animals were being put up for adoption and the $175 Guzman paid was an adoption fee, the newspaper reported.

Guzman, testifying last week, said she answered a newspaper ad and agreed to meet Scheld at her home. When she arrived she said, “The smell was terrible.”

Guzman said Scheld showed her a puppy infested with fleas, but she agreed to buy it and asked that it be treated.

When Guzman returned a few days later to take the dog home it still had fleas and when she took it to a veterinarian she learned it also had scabies, a contagious skin disease.

Scheld was imprisoned for several weeks after her arrest because she could not post bail. Her dogs, 30 or more of them which she refused to relinquish (she gave up 22 others that were in need of urgent medical care), are still in jail.

They were parceled out among a number of New Jersey shelters in 2010 and remain there awaiting an outcome in the case. The cost of their care has topped $100,000, said NJ SPCA spokesman Matt Stanton. 

The trial resumes on Monday. See a video report from NBC news here.