CHATSWORTH, Ga. — Murray County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Jimmy Davenport called it "by far the largest" animal hoarding case he has seen.
"There may have been ones in other areas that were larger, but in the 16 years I've been in law enforcement, this is the largest I can recall," he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, volunteers from the Murray County Humane Society and the Atlanta Humane Society were removing an estimated 70 dogs from a property of about an acre on Old Federal Road, just north of Chatsworth.
Davenport said the property owners have not been charged or arrested but the sheriff's office knows where they are. They were not at the property Wednesday. He said he could not release the names of the property owners because the situation is still under investigation. He said the sheriff's office has been in contact with the district attorney's office about possible charges.
Davenport said the Murray County Animal Shelter contacted the Atlanta Humane Society Tuesday night because of the number of dogs.
"We definitely are the largest nonprofit shelter in the state of Georgia," said Amanda Harris, marketing program manager for the Atlanta Humane Society. "We are happy to help out in these situations. We are larger than most other organizations, so we are happy to help out."
Harris said there were a couple of large dogs but most were smaller breeds.
"I didn't see any emaciation. But they do have fleas, ticks, mosquitos are buzzing around," she said.
Harris said many had matted fur and some appeared to be have heat exhaustion.
"Some of them have shade, and some of them don't. They aren't in great shape, but they have been fed, and we are glad for that," she said.
Angela Micik, with the Murray County Humane Society, said none of the animals were aggressive.
"We aren't having issues. None of them have been aggressive. But they are scared," she said.
Davenport said Murray County Animal Control received a tip about the property Monday morning and reached out to the sheriff's office.
"Yesterday, more information was obtained that enabled our investigators to obtain search warrants for the property. The search warrant was served at 6 p.m. yesterday evening," he said.
At that point, the animals were confined to the property until authorities could figure out where to place them. Davenport said a man and a woman whom he believes to be husband and wife own the property.
The property was surrounded by a fence and several trees blocked the view. Three trailers were visible. Two of them appeared to have the windows knocked out.
Davenport said there are five structures on the property.
"There's multiple pens on the property, multiple makeshift areas for the animals. There's also multiple animals inside pet carriers inside the trailer (the owners live in)," he said.
Davenport said shortly after the search warrant was issued but before the property was searched the female owner of the property called animal control to surrender the dogs.
Nicky Phillips said she has lived down the road from the property for four years.
"Ever since I've been here, she's had dogs," she said.
Phillips said a couple of years ago, when her own dog went missing, she visited the owner of the property to see if her dog was there.
"The trailer was all dark inside," she said. "There were numerous dogs inside."
Phillips did not find her dog there.
"Shortly after that, the pound came and took a couple of her dogs," she said. "I know because she called me and blamed me for them taking her dogs."
But Davenport said to his knowledge the sheriff's office had not received any complaints about the property until Monday.
Harris said the Humane Society often has to respond to help officials deal with animal hoarding.
"This isn't something that happens ultra-frequently, but unfortunately it is something that is way more common in the Southeast than in other parts of the country," she said. "The owner of the property did say that sometimes people dumped animals here. That is something we see regularly throughout the state of Georgia."
When people find a place where there are lots of dogs, she said, they take their own unwanted animals there.
Volunteers with Back in Black Dog Rescue, God Only Knows Animal Rescue, Luv a Dog and the National Spay Alliance Foundation were also helping to remove the dogs, which were taken to the Atlanta Humane Society shelters in Atlanta.
Harris said they will be checked out for health issues and sociability. The first could be put up for adoption next week.