The woman, identified as Sandra Hayes, spoke to officials Friday, March 16, the day after the animals were discovered, Walker County animal control supervisor Curtis Patterson said.
Patterson said Hayes offered no explanation for the conditions in which 23 dogs, all Chihuahuas, were living.
She faces a misdemeanor charge for animal cruelty and a misdemeanor charge for not having any of the dogs inoculated, Patterson said.
“There was no visible floor (in the mobile home) and there was tons of food and feces all over the floor,” said Alison Smith, manager of the Walker County animal shelter. “We were walking on garbage and debris.”
Hayes has lived in the mobile home complex on James Street for the past seven years, she said.
A 911 call on March 15 alerted officials to a foul odor coming from the mobile home, Patterson said.
The caller said Hayes had not been seen in weeks and speculated she might be dead inside the mobile home among the dogs, Patterson said.
She was not found at the residence and an animal control officer called for assistance, due to the magnitude of the situation, Patterson said.
The crews donned hazmat suits to search the piles of feces and wall-to-wall debris in the residence, he said.
The dogs have likely lived in those conditions for numerous months, Smith said.
“The water left for the dogs was filthy and full of roaches,” she said.
The case is the worst that Smith has encountered in 28 years of working in animal care, she said.
It took several people to flip a urine-soaked mattress in the bedroom to check for more dogs underneath, she said.
“The rats boiled out of the center of the mattress,” she said “Everybody had to clear out because the rats were just running at them. It looked like the attack of the rats.”
Crews spent five hours finding dogs a few at a time while sifting through deplorable conditions and excrement, she said.
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, has lived in the complex longer than Hayes and could not recall seeing the dogs outside. None of the neighbors were particularly familiar with Hayes, due to the random and reclusive nature of her returns to the property, the neighbor said.
A maze of spider webs covers baby photos that hang on a living room wall.
The neighbors could only occasionally hear the rumble of dogs running back and forth, causing the trailer to shake at times, the neighbor said.
Neighbors had seen Hayes for a few hours the night before the dogs were seized, the neighbor said. They also believe that Hayes has stayed at the home a handful of times in the last few months, the neighbor said.
One dog slightly bit one of the handlers during the five-hour search, Smith said. That dog is quarantined until tests determine any diseases it may have, she said.
Smith and her staff began to bathe the neglected dogs and remove fleas and ticks Friday morning.
The dogs, which are feral, “have tremendous hair loss and have no social skill,” Smith said. Observation and testing will determine if the dogs have any diseases, she said.
Smith said she is surprised the dogs were not malnourished. The crew found a large crock-pot of dog food in a hallway. The entire dining room table was covered with excrement, while unwashed dishes covered the sink and the stove.
The dogs included eight puppies. “We’re going to give them our focus, with the hopes that these puppies have not been compromised by living in those conditions,” Smith said.
Fairlane Holdings in Ooltewah, Tenn., took over ownership of the mobile home complex in October, according to its Facebook page.
Animal control officials answer calls for aggressive dogs and strays weekly at the complex, Patterson said.
The property owners have had concerns regarding animal welfare and even held a “pet roundup” shortly after purchasing the property, citing that “there are so many strays in the park that could be given to a good home. Bring those strays to the office and you may just receive a little something,” Patterson said.
Phone messages left for property owners seeking comments were not returned.