KING AND QUEEN COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) — The King and Queen Sheriff’s Office says 32 Great Danes rescued from a home were in conditions that ranged from “poor to near death.”
Photo credit: WWBT
Richard Awlasewicz, 52, and Candice Wheat, 39, both of St. Stephens Church, were arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty after the dogs were rescued from their home on Owens Mill Road on Aug. 27.
“Five of the dogs were discovered barricaded inside a small, dilapidated camper,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook. “Both the camper and the dogs were covered in feces and urine. There was no food or water in the camper. The temperature inside the camper was extreme and without ventilation.”
The sheriff’s office was made aware of conditions after they conducted a welfare check at the home due to “a smell”.
"He's been a good neighbor,” said Kimberly Smith. “I didn't know it was going on."
Smith lives near Awlasewicz’s and Wheat’s home where the 32 dogs and puppies were seized on Aug. 27. She recalls a large law enforcement presence that day.
“I remember that day because they were over there that morning and they stayed there until that night,” Smith said. “I knew something was going on, and I saw Cindy was walking back and forth carrying a dog, crying."
“I saw a lot of sheriff’s cars over there but didn’t know what was going on at the time,” another neighbor said. “There were a lot of animal control trucks.”
Twenty-seven of the dogs and puppies were found inside the home during the search with very little food and no water, according to the sheriff’s office.
“The conditions within the house were such that the state Health Department and County Zoning Office were contacted,” the Facebook post stated. “Both agencies responded to the address [where] there were several health, safety and zoning issues. “
During the couple’s arraignment hearing on Sept. 6, the sheriff’s office said Awlasewicz “made unsubstantiated claims that two of the dogs seized are service dogs for Awlasewicz and Wheat. Awlasewicz’s attorney asked that the two dogs be returned immediately. The Judge declined to entertain Awlasewicz’s attorneys request and the hearing has been continued until September 20.”
In the meantime, the dogs are being treated at the King William Regional Animal Shelter.
“Thanks to the immediate veterinary care and the outstanding attention and care the dogs are receiving from the staff at the King William Regional Animal Shelter, it is apparent that most of the dogs’ conditions are improving daily,” the sheriff’s office said.
Shelter manager Lauri Betts said almost all of the dogs were malnourished and had intestinal parasites.
"I really was surprised, because Rick was always going to get dog food,” a neighbor said. “I knew he had several dogs, but I didn't know it was that many."
"Oh my god! We didn’t see these ones,” Smith added after seeing photos of the dogs. “We always only saw two of his dogs.”
On Tuesday, NBC12 was able to view six of the dogs brought to the shelter. In two weeks, those dogs had gained anywhere from 14-30 pounds.
However, Betts said several of them still needed to gain weight. For instance, when “Dog 25” was brought in he had a body score of -1; that scale runs from 1-5. “Dog 30” had a score of 1.
A handful of the Great Danes also experience “stranger danger”, which is where dogs may cower or run away when seeing new faces. There are also a handful of dogs that are deaf, likely due to genetics.
The shelter is closed to the public as they deal with the large rescue effort, but say the community can donate the following items:
• Canned pumpkin, no seasoning
• Laundry detergent
• Hand towels
Any other people interested in helping can email firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the sheriff’s office. They’re urging people not to call the shelter or the sheriff’s office with inquiries.
Awlasewicz and Wheat both face misdemeanor charges for no county licenses (x 13), and no rabies vaccine (x 19). A civil hearing on the seizure of the animals will be heard on Sept. 20. The criminal cases are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 1.