Judge refuses to return dogs to Chandler woman in animal abuse case | Phoenix New Times

Judge refuses to return dogs to owner of Chandler ‘house of horrors’

April McLaughlin at first asked a judge to return 47 dogs police removed from her 'horrific' home. Then she dropped her request to 13.
Animal activists gathered outside the Chandler Municipal Courthouse on Oct. 11 to call attention to the alleged abuse suffered by dogs in April McLaughlin's care.
Animal activists gathered outside the Chandler Municipal Courthouse on Oct. 11 to call attention to the alleged abuse suffered by dogs in April McLaughlin's care. Serena O'Sullivan
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A Chandler Municipal Court Judge denied April McLaughlin’s request to return some of the 47 dogs that police seized from her home last month.

McLaughlin was arrested on Sept. 22 and charged with 55 counts of animal abuse, 55 counts of animal cruelty and one count of vulnerable adult abuse.

On Oct. 11, McLaughlin appeared in court following a petition filed under her alias, Sydney McKinley. Although the 48-year-old initially petitioned to have 47 dogs returned, she withdrew her request before the hearing and told the judge she only wanted 13 dogs returned to her. Police found 60 dogs in her home — 55 were alive and five other bodies were in a freezer. Five were later euthanized and three were returned to their original owners.

"The dogs that I'm asking for are family dogs," McLaughlin told Judge Michelle Lue Sang. “And the safety, I mean, they’re family members, but they also provide a lot of safety and security for myself in my home.”

McLaughlin insisted that the dogs under her care were well taken care of but did not provide evidence at the hearing.

McLaughlin now has 14 days to appeal her case to the Maricopa County Superior Court.
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Ruby was one of five dogs euthanized after police seized them from April McLaughlin's home on Sept. 22.
Courtesy Husky Halfway House Foundation

Unimaginable living conditions

McLaughlin sat emotionless in court as Ruthie Jesus, field operations manager for the Arizona Humane Society, testified about the hellish living conditions of the seized dogs.

"I observed for myself that their paws were covered in feces and urine, and their coats were stained," Jesus said. She described a dog named Chauncey who had severe pain in his hind legs. He struggled to stand and was too weak to escape a pool of his own urine and feces, Jesus said.

Sgt. Nicole Vasey with the Chandler Police Department, who was at McLaughlin's house when the dogs were seized in September, said in court that police didn’t know the full extent of the alleged abuse at first.

McLaughlin hid dogs during home visits, Vasey testified. One of those dogs was Ruby, a husky with a severe medical condition who was tucked inside a bathroom.

"Ruby had a tail that she had chewed down to approximately 3 inches that needed to be amputated," Vasey said. "She had ulcers on the back and was also anemic."

According to Vasey, AHS previously had ordered McLaughlin to take five dogs to a veterinarian. But medical care wasn't enough to cure their suffering. When police raided the home, some of those dogs were in such severe conditions AHS had to euthanize them, Vasey said.
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April McLaughlin showed little emotion during an Oct. 11 court hearing that detailed the hellish living conditions for dogs in her home.
Serena O'Sullivan

Legal loopholes

Although Chandler City Prosecutor Collin Yu presented a clear picture of the alleged abuse perpetrated by McLaughlin, legal loopholes may delay some of the seized dogs from being released to their original owners.

When AHS took custody of the dogs on Sept. 22, it assumed the legal right to provide security and medical care for the dogs. However, that right did not extend to transferring permanent ownership of the canines.

For the organization to take ownership — and, in turn, return the dogs to their original owners — McLaughlin had to surrender her right to appeal for custody of the dogs. Of the 47 dogs that remain with AHS, McLaughlin did just that for 34 of the animals. She was seeking custody of just 13 dogs during the court hearing.

McLaughlin's revised petition gave Sang the ability to issue an abandonment order and transfer ownership to AHS for the remaining 34 dogs. Now, AHS can reunite those dogs with their original owners.

The 13 dogs McLaughlin petitioned to resume ownership of will remain in AHS’ care for 14 days while McLaughlin decides whether to appeal the court ruling.

“As soon as AHS receives the order, our team will begin the process of reuniting the 34 dogs released to our care with their former owners or rescue groups,” AHS said in a statement on Oct. 11. “We are cautiously optimistic that, in the end, full legal custody of the remaining dogs will be transferred to AHS.”

McLaughlin's hearing attracted a passionate group of protesters who stood outside the Chandler courthouse holding signs. Inside, Sang warned people in the courtroom to contain their emotions. Several animal rescue advocates were also on hand, including Rebecca Arizmendi from Texas-based shelter Yaqui Animal Rescue, which is one of the organizations that sued to force AHS to reunite the dogs with their owners.

Yu, the city prosecutor, criticized McLaughlin in his closing argument and asked the judge to keep the dogs from her.

"Even after having been exposed, even after all this horrific evidence out in the open, she shows no remorse for putting them through his house of horrors," Yu said. "These dogs need to go to people who are going to put an end to this nightmare for them."
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