Hancock County Attorney David Solheim said no criminal charges are pending against the owners of an abandoned property in Woden that housed more than one dozen dogs.
“Generally, if we get an animal abuse complaint the Sheriff’s Office will go out to take a look at the animals,” Solheim said. “A lot of times the owner knows they can’t take care of them.”
According to Solheim, that is what happened in this case and the owners, Timothy and Ardith Stewart, voluntarily released the animals. Solheim said he was unaware of any additional properties or dogs related to this case.
“There is no further action with respect to the property,” Solheim said.
Debby Kern of Patriots for Pets said she thinks the owners should be charged.
Patriots for Pets, a Clear Lake-based animal shelter, is still working to clean and rehabilitate the rescued dogs from an abandoned property at 3090 Birch Ave. in Woden. Fourteen remain after one died shortly after officials found them.
“They should not own animals … they don’t care when they die,” Kern said. “Then they want to claim that it was none of our business.”
The phone number for the Birch Avenue home is out of service.
The Kern family is very passionate about animal welfare. According to the Animal Legal Defense, as of 2014 Iowa ranks 49th in the nation for animal cruelty laws.
“I’m not saying Iowa needs to take the No. 1 spot in the nation, but good gracious, No. 25 would be nice,” Kern said. The Humane Society ranked Iowa fourth for most puppy mill problems.
This is the first time Kern has been able to rescue pets from what she described as a puppy mill. She said that Patriots for Pets has received at least eight other reports of questionable properties, but it can be difficult to find some of these facilities because they are in areas that are rarely traveled.
“They never operate in the city,” she said. “They are mostly in very rural areas.”
Kern and the shelter keep the police and sheriff departments posted about the reports they receive.
“People don’t realize that there’s nothing healthy about a puppy mill,” Kern said. “The dogs are old before their time, (and) there’s no vet work, no shots, no nothing.”
As far as the rescued dogs go, the groomers have worked with them for two days to get them clean. Most of the dogs weighed half of what they had been with the matted fur once it was removed.
“Three of them will have to have extra surgery in addition to spay and neutering,” Kern said.
Kern estimates from the dogs' teeth that most of them are five years or older. One bichon is about 12 to 14 years old and has no teeth.
“The dog will be on a soft food diet,” Kern said. “There’s nothing you can do about the tongue hanging out of the mouth all the time.”
Another dog, a long haired Chihuahua, has severe cataracts and is at risk while under anesthesia.
“The dogs are required to be spayed and neutered; it’s something we have to do,” Kern said. “Most of the dogs will need their teeth cleaned while they’re under (anesthesia).”