Case shocks animal welfare advocates

NORTH VERNON

What animal control officers found in a North Vernon mobile home last month was enough to make them sick.

They uncovered 79 dogs, some of them hidden away in closets, with urine and feces everywhere, even in the beds of the small residence. The floors had absorbed so much urine that they felt squishy to animal-control officers.

“It was horrible,” said Jennings County Animal Control Officer Heather Kessler, who investigated the case against Jeff and Dawn Bowman.

“The smell was unbelievably bad. I don’t see how they were living in that situation,” she said.

The conditions were so extreme that Animal Control Officer Michelle Acton said they caused her glasses to fog up when she entered the home.

“It was pretty horrific,” said Acton, who added that this was the first animal-hoarding case either she or Kessler had encountered.

The Bowmans could not be reached for comment.

About one-fourth of the dogs found were euthanized for behavior or health reasons. Animal welfare authorities scrambled to find temporary shelter or permanent homes for the remaining ones, except for four the Bowmans are being allowed to keep.

The Bowmans’ home initially was considered a health concern, but the occupants avoided condemnation after the home was cleaned up and inspected by Jennings County code enforcement and health officials, health department spokeswoman Nettie Malcomb said.

However, the hoarding matter is not over for the Bowmans, who could face jail time and fines if Jennings County Prosecutor Alan Marshall files criminal charges against the couple. He’s awaiting a report from Kessler that will help him determine if charges are warranted.

The action began with a tip that a pizza delivery person made to the Jennings County Animal Control office, Action said. The delivery driver described Dawn Bowman as having feces on her hands and feet when she stepped out of the home to receive the pizza, Action said.

The dogs were removed Oct. 18 from the Bowmans’ home on Ellingsworth Way, on the north side of Country Squire Lakes subdivision.

Fifty-three of the dogs have been placed with animal rescue organizations and shelters or have been adopted by families in Jennings and surrounding counties, said Dawn Moore, who runs a Greensburg animal rescue operation that initially took in 17 of the dogs.

Seventeen dogs were euthanized within 24 hours of being picked up because of illness or unmanageable behavior, and five died over the past month, Kessler said.

Almost all municipally owned animal shelters are forbidden from finding homes for dogs that display severe behavioral issues, and those animals usually have to be euthanized, said Kevin Konetzka, a 30-year veteran of animal control management in Columbus.

Also, excessive urine in an enclosed space creates an airborne bacterial problem that results in severe respiratory problems for dogs, Konetzka said. When combined with fecal matter, that increases the chances of disease, he said.

Four of the dogs were returned to the Bowmans with the understanding that the animals would be taken by animal control staff to be spayed or neutered on

Nov. 11, with costs covered by the Madison County Women’s Prison, Kessler said. As scheduled, the dogs were spayed and neutered last week at Mercy Mission and Adoption in North Vernon, Acton said.

The Bowmans also have agreed to weekly visits from Jennings County Animal Control officers to ensure the animal-hoarding problem doesn’t re-emerge, Kessler said.

Acton said the Bowmans are complying and keeping the home clean enough to keep the four dogs.

The prosecutor’s office will use Kessler’s findings to determine whether charges should be filed in the case. If the Bowmans are charged with animal neglect as a Class A misdemeanor, they each could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

“We’ll look at all the evidence. But on the face of it, it’s very disturbing,” said Marshall, who describes himself as a dog owner and pet lover. “In fact, the thought of it is overwhelming.”

No hoarding cases have been reported to the Jennings County Animal Control office in at least a decade, Acton said. If there were such situations, neighbors didn’t report them, she said.

The only comparable hoarding case Acton could think of was one in Arizona that involved a house full of cats and about an inch of feces covering the floors, she said.

Moore, the animal-rescue operator from Greensburg, said she thinks that returning the four dogs to the Bowmans was wrong because she fears the dogs could be subjected to the same living conditions in the future.

Most of the dozen dogs in her care are extremely skinny and malnourished, and none seem to recognize dog food, she said.

While Moore said most animal hoarders generally deserve help, both she and Kessler said Marshall needs to file charges against the Bowmans.

“(Dawn Bowman) tried to hide how many dogs she had in there and even had some hidden away in closets,” Kessler said. “She was not upset while we were there and even helped us pick up the animals. She knew she was in the wrong.”

“I just feel that if there isn’t a punishment, every one else is going to do it,” Moore said.

By the numbers

Animal control officers found dozens of dogs in a North Vernon mobile home last month.

79

Dogs removed Oct. 18 from the North Vernon home of Jeff and Dawn Bowman

57

Number of surviving dogs

53

Dogs that have been placed in permanent or temporary homes

22

Dogs that were euthanized or died

Pull Quote

“We’ll look at all the evidence. But on the face of it, it’s very disturbing.”

Jennings County Prosecutor Alan Marshall

On the living conditions of 79 dogs found at a North Vernon home

How to adopt

Anyone interested in adopting one of the rescued dogs should contact:

  • Mercy Rescue and Adoption, North Vernon: 812-346-8751
  • Moore Love Rescue, Greensburg: 765-969-3938
  • Decatur County Animal Control, Greensburg: 812-663-9081
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.