Bellaire — The “German shepherd forfeit,” is how Inga Waldrep thinks of the animal cruelty case that has dominated her professional life for more than a year.
“The community, and even the court system, doesn’t understand how bad it can be with animals,” said Waldrep, an animal control officer for Antrim County. “These dogs? It’s like torture what they went through. And it was all just to make a dollar.”
On March 28, 2019, Deborah Schultz, 66, a Mancelona dog breeder, was arrested for resisting and obstructing, then charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty, following an investigation by Waldrep.
Schultz disputed the charges in a telephone interview Friday and said officers never read her her Miranda rights, and their investigation and the reports that resulted were “bulls--t.”
“I’ve been a breeder for almost 48 years,” she said. “My dogs are well cared for and they had no call, no call at all, to take them.”
Officers went to Schultz’s home March 26, 2019 with a search warrant, an investigative report shows, and over the next 17 hours seized 13 dogs — 12 German shepherds and a Chihuahua.
Schultz said she asked to see the warrant but her request was denied.
Waldrep and Antrim County Undersheriff Dean Pratt, said in separate telephone interviews that what they discovered inside the Schultz home would stay with them for a long time.
“The smell would burn your eyes,” Waldrep said. “She fed them a raw diet — duck feet and raw chicken — and there were bones all over the floor. She had muzzles all throughout her whole house. There wasn’t one place where she didn’t have a muzzle. Those dogs never had access to food or water in their crates. They had sores and skin infections, and roundworm and whipworm.”
Pratt said an adult male German shepherd, later found to have been used for breeding in more than two dozen litters, was tied outside and standing on a pile of dried feces 3 feet tall.
Schultz disputes this and accused Pratt and Waldrep of lying.
Pratt said when he got home that night, he threw his shirt, tie and pants in the trash.
“I’ve served this office for 29 years,” Pratt said. “I’ve seen some farm incidences that were bad, and some cats in a hoarding situation. But as far as a breeding facility, I would have to say this is the worst case I’ve ever seen.”
Pratt said the dogs were scared, and several were extremely aggressive.
“It wasn’t their fault,” Pratt said, “and the reason the removal took so long is we didn’t want to harm them.”
None of the dogs were licensed and some were not vaccinated against rabies, records show.
The Chihuahua was locked inside a small metal crate that had been stacked on top of one of the German shepherd’s crates, Waldrep said. There were burns on her face and feet, her fur was stained red, and there was a chicken bone with raw dried meat in her food dish.
“And that bone had been there awhile,” Waldrep said.
Schultz said the dog was afraid of the bigger dogs and that’s why she was kept in the crate.
Officers sedated some of the dogs, used handcuffs and zip ties to secure the crates, put broom handles through the crates to carry them to their vehicles, covered the crates with blankets and towels, then took the dogs to the shelter.
Sheriff Dan Bean, who was out of town that day, credited Waldrep and Pratt for a successful operation that could have easily gone sideways.
“Thank God it was Inga and my undersheriff,” Bean said. “If we would have had some brand new kid on that detail? Someone would have got bit by one of those dogs, and by bit I mean bit bad.”
The dogs, the puppies and Maggie
During her investigation, Waldrep asked Schultz for the dogs’ names. Schultz initially told Waldrep there were so many, it was impossible to remember them all.
With repeated prompting, Waldrep was eventually given what turned out to be a partial list.
The females were Arwen, Mary and Elsie; the males were Ragnar, Bo, Jack and Bjorn. The Chihuahua was Sidney.
Over the next four months at the shelter, Waldrep treated their skin infections and open sores, and clipped nails so long some of the dogs could only hobble.
Twice a day she put medicine in ears so damaged they felt like rags dried in the sun.
She worked on leash training and expressed affection to any of the dogs who would allow it.
One was Maggie, a 5-year-old German shepherd, pregnant with four puppies.
By June, Maggie’s health had deteriorated, and Waldrep called veterinarian Dr. Dale Ackler, of Mancelona Veterinary Hospital, who performed a cesarean section. Two of the puppies were born dead.
A few days later, Maggie rejected the two remaining puppies, and a day after that, she and the puppies died.
An autopsy performed by Michigan State University determined Maggie had GDT, or gastric dilation with torsion, a common condition in large breed dogs.
Public criticism brings in state inspectors
The shelter and Waldrep were trolled on social media after Maggie’s death, and complaints about the shelter — some from Schultz — were logged with the state’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Schultz said the dog MSU autopsied wasn’t Maggie, and that Maggie had been carrying more than 4 puppies.
Martin Rodriquez, a regulation manager with the Animal Industry Division of MDARD, said cruelty complaints against dog breeders are not uncommon in Michigan.
The number of dogs in the Schultz case, and the subsequent complaints about the shelter, brought the issue to the attention of his office.
He said he responded by sending in investigators.
Two unannounced inspections found the facility clean and the paperwork in order, after previous visits resulted in a warning letter from Rodriquez, about insufficient weight records for some animals.
Editor Jennifer Hamilton Isbel expressed concerns over when, and how often, veterinary services were sought by shelter staff.
Bean, whose position includes serving as the shelter’s director, said he thought some of the public criticism was well-intended, yet also frustrating.
The county incurred $3,000 in vet bills caring for Schultz’s dogs, he said.
“They were trying to give the Antrim County Shelter a black eye,” he said. “Did we take on too many animals? Probably. But it was because of this cruelty issue we had to handle.”
Personal attacks on social media against the shelter continued.
In a letter to Antrim County Commissioners, Bean said these were handled with “thick skin and taking the high road.”
As soon as Bean received the warning letter from Rodriquez, he and Waldrep addressed the record-keeping issue, he said. MDARD correspondence between Rodriquez and Bean provided the Record-Eagle confirms this.
“When our staff was in there, they did not see any care issues,” Rodriquez said, of two unannounced site inspections conducted on August 1, 2019 and April 22, 2019.
“If animals are taken from a breeder, as in this case, usually they are not in the best condition to begin with,” he added. “If you take animals from a familiar place, even in cruelty cases, and you take them to an unfamiliar place, that is high stress on the animals and you can give them proper feed and they still may lose some weight.”
Schultz goes to court
On March 28, 2019, Schultz appeared before 86th District Court Judge Robert Cooney and pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor cruelty charge, court records show.
The remaining charges were dismissed; Schultz was fined $750 and given probation.
The dogs were returned to her in July 2019. The conditions of her probation were that she not breed the dogs, not obtain additional dogs for breeding and allow unannounced inspections from animal control.
She said her dogs were returned to her underweight and dehydrated. Waldrep said Schultz couldn’t identify her own dogs.
“When she got the dogs back, she was asking me which dogs were which as I was bringing them out of the shelter,” Waldrep said.
The anger in Waldrep’s voice is unmistakable, even over the phone, even nine months later.
Bean said he and Waldrep obeyed by the judge’s return order as required, even though they didn’t understand it.
“I would like to have seen her not get them all back,” Bean said.
Beside the vet bills, Bean said their pacing and other destructive behaviors have caused thousands of dollars in damage to the recently renovated facility.
The court-ordered return did not require Schultz to reimburse the county for the damage, the veterinarian services, or for the $10 fee per day per dog the shelter charges for strays or seizures, Bean said.
Cooney was reached by telephone, but said he could not comment on an ongoing case.
“I guess the judge didn’t see the true colors of Schultz and what was really going on,” Waldrep said.
What happened next, Waldrep said, was both tragic and predictable.
The German shepherd forfeit
In February, Schultz’s probation officer, Elizabeth Stanichuk said she violated her probation. Schultz appealed, but was found guilty and the dogs were seized again.
Stanichuk did not return a call for comment, but Pratt said the violation stemmed from Schultz obtaining additional dogs and breeding them.
Cooney ruled the dogs were now forfeit, meaning Schultz won’t ever get them back.
A restitution hearing is scheduled for May 18.
Schultz’s attorney of record, Robert Hickman, did not return a call seeking comment.
For now, the dogs are back at the shelter, with the exception of Mary and Arwen, two females Waldrep said she hasn’t been able to account for.
Waldrep said she suspected Schultz bred them and hid them, but Schultz told a Record-Eagle reporter both dogs were sold as pets to good homes.
“Why can’t I breed?” Schultz asked. “My puppies are healthy and I take them to the vet.”
The investigation began after one of Schultz’s puppies was returned at a year old, the new owner complaining it was dangerous and untrainable.
Schultz took the dog back, and it bit her.
“If this owner hadn’t been bitten by one of her own dogs,” Waldrep said, “we never would have known what was happening at that house.”
In March 2019, days before the dogs were first seized, records show Schultz was treated at Otsego Memorial Hospital in Gaylord for a dog bite on her arm.
Michigan law mandates medical personnel inform authorities of a dog bite whenever a rabies vaccination certificate isn’t immediately available.
Hospital personnel alerted Otsego County Animal Control, which faxed the report to Antrim County and prompted the investigation.
Schultz also called animal control to ask for the dog to be put down, records show, though she disputes that.
When the dogs were seized a second time, Waldrep had them taken first to the Mancelona Veterinary Clinic for check-ups and treatment.
Some were pregnant. Many had the same skin, nail and parasitic issues she’d tended to when they were in the shelter the first time.
“It was crushing, really, to see them that way again,” Waldrep said.
Some of the forfeited dogs are as old as 10, Waldrep said.
She’s still optimistic that some will be adoptable, but only to people familiar with the breed, willing to attend to their medical needs and accept the behavioral challenges brought on by abuse and neglect.
They were so used to being confined in kennels, that inside the larger dog runs at the shelter, they spin in tiny circles.
When they’re not spinning, they pace.
They’re not housebroken and they can’t seem to get enough water to drink.
“When the pandemic is over, and we’re able to open the shelter, I’m hoping we can get some of the dogs into a good home setting,” she said.
“They deserve someone who will finally love them, now, in the last part of their lives.”
Those interested in helping, can drop off dog food donations at 4660 M-88, Bellaire.
Financial donations can be mailed to Antrim County Animal Control, P.O. Box 568, Bellaire, MI, 49615.
Pre-payment of veterinary services can be made to Mancelona Veterinary Hospital, 10338 US-131, Mancelona, MI, 49659 or by calling 231-587-0520.