A San Diego couple accused of keeping 180 dogs in deplorable conditions – 92 of them inside a feces-filled home in Poway – have been arrested on nearly a dozen counts of animal abuse.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office said Tuesday that Christine Calvert, 62, and Mark Vattimo, 73, are both in custody, each facing 10 felony counts of animal abuse and neglect, plus one misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer.
According to the DA’s office, investigators from the San Diego Humane Society were tipped off to the couple’s home by a complaint from a local veterinary office. On Jan. 20, animal service workers entered the home and found 92 Yorkshire terriers and Yorkshire terrier mix-breed dogs inside, kept in a dark room upstairs.
Investigators said the dogs were in bad shape. Most of them had severe matting, faces entangled in their fur, skin issues, ear infections, hair loss, overgrown nails and poor teeth. The DA’s office said one dog was even missing part of its leg.
The room in which the dogs were being kept was covered in debris, feces and mice.
“The shocking conditions and sheer number of animals in the defendants’ home make this a particularly disturbing case of animal abuse,” San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in a press release.
Four days after the discovery at the couple’s home, officials found dozens more Yorkie mix-breed dogs belonging to the couple at another location.
Both Calvert and Vattimo were arrested late last week.
Calvert had fled San Diego in a motorhome purchased for her by Vattimo and was arrested on Feb. 24 in Primm, Nevada. Investigators said Calvert had another batch of dogs in her possession.
Investigators said she took those dogs with her when she fled in order to avoid having them taken away. That last batch of dogs, 46 of them, were returned to San Diego on Monday and are being cared for by the Humane Society.
Officials said those dogs are still being evaluated and are expected to be okay.
Calvert will be extradited to San Diego to face charges, the DA’s office said. Vattimo was arrested on Feb. 25 and released on $50,000 bail. He’s scheduled to appear in court on March 6.
Stephen MacKinnon, chief of humane law enforcement for San Diego Humane Society, said this case was unique and, as the investigation unfolded, the Humane Society sought support from the DA’s office.
“In this instance, when we discovered the owners were withholding animals and interfering with an active investigation, it became intentional animal cruelty so criminal charges needed to be pursued,” MacKinnon explained in a press release.
Since being the rescued, some of the dogs have been examined and treated by veterinarians at the San Diego Humane Society’s San Diego campus. The pooches have been evaluated for behavior, too, and have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, groomed and outfitted with microchips. Some have received dental care as well.
The pups captured the hearts of San Diegans.
Within 24 hours of some of the dogs becoming available for adoption, the Humane Society was flooded with more than 1,800 adoption applications.
By early February, 80 of San Diego’s most wanted Yorkies had been cleared for adoption. The Humane Society closed the application process on Feb. 4, much earlier than expected. They implemented a lottery system to finish out the adoption process for that first batch of Yorkies.
Some of the dogs were adopted by forever families at the Humane Society’s Gaines Street shelter on Feb. 8, with additional adoptions following.
San Diego Humane Society Dr. Cindy Mitchell said many of the dogs belonging to the couple were pregnant and have since had puppies, increasing the number of dogs rescued in this case.
Mitchell has treated some of the dogs and said medical concerns have been noted in some of them, including severe dental and ear diseases.
She said there is more work to be done with this latest batch of dogs that came in this week.
“We have not had to euthanize any of the dogs,” she told NBC 7 on Tuesday. “We still are working on some of the tougher medical cases though, so hopefully that won't happen, but I can't promise that everyone will come out okay.”
Despite the conditions they’ve endured, Mitchell said the dogs are “wonderful” but will need a little extra care from their future owners.
“They are wonderful dogs and they will eventually make wonderful pets,” said Mitchell. “They may need additional love and support, and veterinary care than your average pet.”
Mitchell said this case is certainly a unique and extreme one.
“[Hoarding] is a mental illness. When people get to this point and people who are participating in this type of behavior, they need help. It's not the norm,” said Mitchell. “So it's important to recognize and help people if you happen to be associated with or know somebody who has a problem like this. If you have a concern that someone may be in over their heads or maybe is passed the legal city limit of the number of animals that they have, they can reach out to our humane law team through our dispatch.”