2 charged after hundreds of animals removed from Grafton rescue

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 11:19 AM EST
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GRAFTON, W.Va (WDTV) - Two Taylor County women have been charged after police reported deplorable, unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at an animal rescue.

An investigation into The Spirit of Animals Rescue Corporation on West Main Street in Grafton began in December after authorities received a complaint from an animal rescuer in Calhoun County who described it as “the worst case of animal cruelty” she had ever witnessed, according to a criminal complaint.

She told police there were 30-40 dogs on the property that were severely malnourished, dirty and injured in addition to a woman living on the property with no electricity, water, plumbing or bathrooms.

The woman living there moved in with her daughters, 34-year-old Kelly Rhoads and 46-year-old Nicole McLaughlin, both of Grafton, after having her leg amputated, according to the complaint.

The report says officers went to the home after home health workers said there were 65 cats and 15 dogs in the home, many of which were in poor health, the home was filthy and had a “putrid” smell that made it hard to breathe. One health care worker reportedly told police she fell through the front porch when she stepped on it.

When workers asked about the smell, which was a strong odor of ammonia from cat urine, they allegedly said the smell “was from them painting a room.”

Investigators then learned that The Spirit of Animals Rescue Corporation had its 501(c)3 non-profit status revoked last August by the IRS, and a December Facebook post by the organization referred to the home as “The Cat Castle,” the criminal complaint says.

Deputies and other officials executed a search warrant at two homes on W. Main St. on Jan. 16, and court documents say the search “revealed uninhabitable conditions for humans and animals, alike.” One of the homes had four adults, 16 dogs and five cats living at the home.

A vet tech on scene during the search warrant checked out the animals present and, according to the complaint, said the home had inhumane and unsanitary conditions, with large amounts of feces and urine present.

When officers searched the second home, pictured below, they found one dog, six puppies and over 100 cats, with urine and feces covering the floor in each room and “stacked up in corners and closets.” None of the cats had food, water or clean litter, many of which were being kept in cages, the complaint alleges. It also says a majority of the cats also had matted eyes. The vet tech was unable to check out the cats due to so many inside the home, officers said.

Deplorable conditions at Grafton animal rescue
Deplorable conditions at Grafton animal rescue(WDTV)

Authorities said both homes were condemned due to contamination, and the mother was taken to the hospital for health screenings.

Investigators returned to the home on Jan. 23 with a hazmat specialist to do air quality samples in the homes. The report says results showed greatly reduced air quality in both homes, with carbon monoxide readings being between -3 to -4.

The ammonia levels in both homes were largely similar, being between 1,500-2,000 parts per million. Where the mother was staying, however, officers said the ammonia levels measured at 2,500 parts per million, which is reportedly a deadly level over an eight-hour exposure period.

Following the air quality samples, investigators said the homes were to remain condemned but updated it so no one was allowed to enter the home without proper protective equipment, including a hazmat suit and respirator.

When the homes were condemned, authorities said, in total, over 100 cats and 20 dogs were removed from the homes with a number of cats hiding within the walls, preventing animal control officers from removing them.

Both Rhoads and McLaughlin have been charged with 128 counts of animal neglect and one count of neglect of an incapacitated adult. They are both out on bond.