Two people were arrested on animal cruelty charges last week after more than a hundred dogs were seized from an alleged puppy mill near Honey Grove.
The Fannin County Sheriff’s Office said Cindy Oliver and Mitchell Gilbert were arrested on Jan. 17, each on a charge of cruelty to non-livestock animals, a Class A misdemeanor. The pair’s arrests follow the Jan. 6 seizure of more than 140 animals, including 117 dogs, 21 puppies and two cats.
“Everything was just in filth,” Fannin County Sheriff Mark Johnson said. “The officers that were out there said it was disgusting and the dogs weren’t being taken care of and it was just very unhealthy and unsanitary conditions for all of them.”
In a release published by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas, the agency said investigators were first made aware of conditions at the property Oliver and Gilbert used on Jan. 4 after Child Protective Services visited their home on an unrelated matter and reported its findings. On Jan. 5, SPCA investigators and Fannin County Sheriff’s Office deputies visited the property and concluded that the animals needed to be removed. The two groups took their findings to a judge who then authorized a search and seizure warrant.
“Most of the animals were housed in a structure behind the residence, and were all found living in filthy cages, crates and kennels, up to three dogs in each,” the SPCA release read. “This structure was infested with roaches, which were found crawling all over the dogs and cats housed there. In one area, the dogs were being housed in feces- and urine-filled wire crates stacked on top of each other. In another area, a makeshift run of feces- and urine-filled pens held the majority of the dogs.”
The dogs, primarily Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians, were removed from the property and transported to the Russell E. Dealey Animal Rescue Center in Dallas, where SPCA veterinarians and facility staff diagnosed them with a host of medical conditions, including “matted fur, fur loss, fleas, dental issues, long nails, ear issues, tumors and more.”
Johnson said he was aware of Oliver’s and Gilbert’s ownership of multiple dogs since as early as 2003 when he worked for the Honey Grove Police Department. The sheriff explained that he had been called to their residence to investigate conditions in previous years, but found them to be satisfactory, with clean cages, heating and air conditioning and an attendant who cared for the animals.
The SPCA release stated that following the seizure, Oliver and Gilbert both told investigators they had been selling the dogs, but it was unclear whether the two were properly licensed to do so.
Oliver and Gilbert were booked in the Fannin County Jail, where their bail was set at $5,000, each. An email placed to the Fannin County District Attorney’s office asking whether the two would face jail time or be allowed to own animals again, was not immediately returned Tuesday. The judge who authorized the search and seizure warrant awarded $33,338.85 in restitution to the SPCA of Texas “for the cost of investigation, expert witnesses, housing and care for the animals,” but the SPCA said it does not expect to receive the funds to help offset related expenses.
Johnson said several horses were also removed from Oliver’s and Gilbert’s property in recent days, but he did not immediately know their condition. The sheriff added that Fannin County officials would continue to investigate and prosecute those who illegally breed, sell and mistreat animals.
“We’re going to continue to keep our eye on them,” Johnson said. “If you’re doing things like this — animal abuse and neglect — it’s not going to be tolerated.”