KINGSLEY — Eight cats, four dogs, one mourning dove, one tortoise, a ball python and a chicken will be treated, fostered and re-homed after being seized from an “extremely unsanitary” Kingsley home, according to 86th District Court documents.
“It’s definitely in the five worst cases I’ve had,” said Jamie Croel, Grand Traverse County Animal Control supervisor. “They weren’t being cared for the way they should’ve been cared for.”
Their owner, Kingsley resident Debra Kay Sampson, faces felony charges for their treatment.
Sampson, 63 and unemployed, was arraigned Wednesday on an abandonment or cruelty of 10 or more animals charge, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison, community service and up to $5,000 in fines. She requested a court-appointed attorney at the hearing, and after a morning in jail is out on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond.
A bond provision provides she not be permitted to care for any animals.
Prosecutors charged her as a habitual offender — she was convicted in 2017 on a separate, non-animal-related felony of attempted assault with a dangerous weapon.
An anonymous tip first brought animal control officers to the scene on June 7, Croel said. She was among the responding officers Sampson declined to invite inside upon a first visit to her rural home.
Croel said she wasn’t able to see anything.
But she could smell it.
So she consulted Grand Traverse County sheriff’s department deputies and got a warrant before heading back to the home, flanked by law enforcement.
What they found, she said, horrified them.
A sheriff’s department report obtained via a Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act request details the scene, in which cages lined the home floor to ceiling, filled with animals.
They were greeted by “piles of debris, boxes, garbage, etcetera covering every countertop and space in the kitchen, and also in the adjoining dining room and living room,” the report reads. The smell was so intense the deputy had to wear a respirator to breathe.
Investigators found the bodies of several dead cats in Sampson’s freezer, according to court documents, next to food for human consumption. The report states Sampson told deputies they’d died during the winter, when the ground was frozen.
Homemade cages lining the walls held several cats, and investigators found several dogs in excrement-filled crates and, in the living room, a caged and anxious raccoon that paced its confines throughout the search. A tortoise was found in a tub and nearby, a small glass enclosure housed a python, the report states.
Each cage was filled with urine and feces, according to the report, and the python’s enclosure was littered with waste, shed skin and half-eaten rodents.
“It was just an odd situation — most of the animals were in cages,” Croel said. “They’d been there for quite some time.”
Most of their food and water bowls were empty, she added, and those that weren’t were contaminated with urine and feces.
“Whatever they were eating, it was not good for them,” Croel said.
Sampson refused to voluntarily surrender the animals, the report states, so the deputy procured a warrant before returning with Animal Control officers to seize them.
In the report, it’s noted Sampson told investigators she “feels overwhelmed with her life circumstances” and that she “deeply loves (the animals) and is trying her best.”
Law enforcement referred the case to Adult Protective Services.
Prosecutors approved a warrant for Sampson’s arrest on June 28, and she was taken into custody by Michigan State Police troopers at her home around 6:30 a.m. on July 17, according to MSP Lt. Travis House.
Veterinarians at Northwood Animal Hospital evaluated and treated the animals.
Several animals were found to be moderately underweight, severely dehydrated, covered in sores and have minor growth deformities due to poor nutrition. Multiple dogs had to be sedated before matted fur was shaved away, the deputy’s report states — the removal was painful for the animals because the mats were too tight to their skin.
One cat’s untrimmed claws had grown into its paw, and one dog’s eye had to be removed due to infection, according to the report.
Others were found to be in fairly normal condition.
They’ll be fostered after treatment, Croel said, and are being kept at Cherryland Humane Society.
A raccoon found in the home had to be destroyed, the report states, after a Michigan Department of Natural Resources officer found it to be too domesticated to be returned to the wild.
Sampson next appears in court on Aug. 7 at 11 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.