SULLIVAN CITY, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Yaqui Animal Rescue is a non-profit shelter in Sullivan City. Since there are so many stray animals in South Texas, shelters like Yaqui tend to work with other animal shelters across the country to try to find them homes.
In June, Yaqui Animal Rescue sent two of their disabled dogs Checo and Butters to the Special Needs Animal Welfare League in Chandler, Arizona, operated by a woman named April McLaughlin. It was after the dogs were sent that problems began to arise.
“We went to her house, and her house smelled like death,“ said Rebecca Arizmendi, Board Member of Yaqui Animal Rescue. “It was one of the most atrocious things I think I’ve ever witnessed.”
After posting their concerns on social media and alerting local authorities in Chandler, the police department obtained a search warrant for Mclaughlin’s home where she ran the shelter on Sept. 22. Investigators found 55 disabled dogs including Checo and Butters in “unimaginable conditions.”
A probable cause affidavit describes the dogs in urine and feces. Some dogs were severely injured and needed to be humanly euthanized. Five other dogs were found dead in a freezer.
Arizmendi tells ValleyCentral that when they first sent Checo and Butters to McLaughlin, her organization seemed to check out given her knowledge of taking care of disabled dogs and her endorsements from prominent organizations.
“It wasn’t until I really started looking into her and noticed her bizarre way of communicating or lack of communicating that we really kind of thought it was odd because that’s not animal rescue behavior,” Arizmendi said.
It was then when Arizmendi along with members of other animal shelters across the county discovered McLaughlin had multiple fake names and an alleged tendency to defraud animal shelters.
“It was a complete scam,” Arizmendi said. “We gave her a $1,500 check for Butters to help with his rehab, which she never did, we sent her dog beds, we sent her pee pads, we sent her food. We sent her all kinds of items. And we know now that it was all thrown in the backyard in her because she was a hoarder.”
All 55 dogs seized by Chandler police are now in the care of the Arizona Humane Society. Police have all of the dogs under a 10-day holding period while the investigation is still ongoing. But Arizmendi believes this holding period will be longer, given the severity of the investigation.
Arizmendi along with other Yaqui Animal Rescue members are frustrated due to the lack of communication with officials in Arizona on how they can get Checo and Butters home.
“After that 10 Day hold, we were told that there’s a hearing where a Judge can determine what happens to the custody of those dogs,” Arizmendi said. “Can they go back to the rescue? Or does the defendant also have the right to dispute and get the custody back? We don’t know if the dogs had been euthanized. We don’t know if dogs are okay, we have basically zero information.”
While Yaqui Animal Rescue works to get their dogs back, they say they have learned a difficult lesson and want other animal shelters to be aware.
“Where we failed, even though everything seemed legit is we didn’t ask for maybe an identification of the owner, which is not typically asked for,” Arizmendi said. “We didn’t ask to see their board of directors, so those are the things that if I were to change anything in what I have done is to know who you are talking to.”
While this has been a traumatizing experience, Yaqui Animal Rescue said this will not stop them from their mission.
“I hope everyone will do better by their animals and ask the hard questions,” Arizmendi said. “Create noise because that is what got those 55 dogs out of that house was by creating noise. If we hadn’t done that those dogs would still be there today.”
Chandler police have charged April McLaughlin with 55 counts of animal abuse and 55 counts of animal cruelty.
Yaqui Animal Rescue has started a fundraiser on their social media pages to help get Checo and Butters along with other dogs rescued home.