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Doggone it, she’s at it again

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An anonymous complaint made to the SLO County Sheriff's Department and Animal Services has led to the seizure on Dec. 14 of more than 100 animals and the arrest of 56-year-old Cynthia Walsh on suspicion of animal cruelty.

Eric Anderson, manager of County Animal Services, stated that Walsh had a “history of animal issues,� mostly having to do with improper licensing. Earlier complaints, he said, could not be substantiated because of a lack of evidence.

However, court records show that in 2002 she was cited for unsanitary conditions during an Animal Services inspection for a hobby breeder permit. At that time, the inspector noted cramped and unclean conditions. The report also confirmed the presence of 34 dogs and puppies on the premises, though the report states that more dogs and other animals, including birds, were kept from the inspector's view. Walsh was also sited in 2004 for cruelty and failure to care for animals. According to her attorney, these charges were eventually dropped.

During a recent phone conversation, Walsh initially refused to comment on the case, citing the advice of her attorney. However, she went on to say that she was being wrongfully charged, stating that it was a “mis-justice� to suggest she was cruel to animals. “Anyone who knows me knows that's not true,� she insisted.

An investigation into Walsh's history with animals led New Times to several veterinarians, dog groomers, and pet-store owners throughout the county, many of whom confirmed having done business with and in one case even employing Walsh, though most declined furhter comment.

Carrie (who chose not to give her last name) is an employee at CD's Pet Emporium in Arroyo Grande, where Walsh allegedly purchased several dogs. She would not comment on this allegation, but she did say that Walsh came in weekly to purchase large amounts of the store's highest quality dog and cat foods, sometimes up to 200 pounds of dry food and “several cases� of canned food at a time. “She said she had a lot of animals, but she seemed responsible. And she never disclosed to us exactly how many pets she had.�

The animals— 84 dogs, 26 birds, seven cats, four goats, and a duck — were kept in a 1,000 square-foot house in Edna Valley with a small, fenced-in yard, in conditions that have been categorized as “very unsanitary.� Dr. Anderson described carpets in the house burned through to the flooring by urine and feces and animals kept in cages and pens throughout the property. Rescue workers wore biohazard gear and gas masks to protect themselves from the noxious air. “In my 16 years of service I have never seen anything like this,� he said.

Additionally, the remains of 13 dogs were found inside the kitchen freezer. The Sheriff's department has not determined their cause of death.

The seized animals were taken to the county animal shelter where they are undergoing medical examinations. None of the animals appeared to be abused, although most of them suffered from skin and eye infections, hair loss, and poor dental health. Though none of the animals was overly aggressive, Anderson said many appeared to be poorly socialized. Since their seizure, two of the birds, underweight and feather-pecked, have died.

“I wouldn't say that there was any malicious abuse here,� said Anderson. “I would call it gross neglect. This is what we call a crime of omission.�

A temporary facility has been created to accommodate the animals, who are not available for adoption at this time. With facilities currently beyond capacity, the sheriff's department is asking area residents to lend a hand by keeping their own pets indoors or in enclosed areas. They advise all animals should wear identification, even if they've been microchipped, to ensure a quick return. Anyone interested in making a donation to Animal Services for the continued care of these animals can call 781-4400. ∆

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