Animal hoarding: Cruelty charges over 27 animals in 800 square foot apartment

Last month, we told you about Rhonda Bernard, who was charged with animal cruelty for keeping 26 cats, 23 chihuahuas and two chinchillas in the Fremont County home she shared with her ten-year-old son.

The number of animals that led to similar accusations against Ken, Linds and Karla Rumery, as well as Ian Nelson, is actually lower: a mere 27 total, most of them dogs. But the size was smaller, too: This menagerie was found in a 800-square foot apartment. Continue for photos and a firsthand account of critter hoarding.

According to Officer Lorraine Pacheco, who works special investigations for Denver Animal Control, the original September 25 report about the happenings in an apartment on the 10000 block of East Virginia Avenue dealt with aromas -- unpleasant ones.

"We initially got a call from one of the neighbors because of the odor -- and they could hear animals in there," Pachecho says. "But we didn't know how many animals there were at the time."

When the responding officer found out, he called for backup from, among others, Pacheco -- and she knew the task at hand would be challenging even before she stepped into the apartment.

"The apartment was in a two-story building, and you could smell it from the bottom of the stairs," she says.

The first thing Pacheco saw was "a lot of dogs running around, a lot of personal stuff all over, and a lot of dog feces and urine" from 22 dogs, all of them poodle-terrier mixes, plus one cat, two turtles and two hamsters.

Also discovered: three dead frogs and the body of a newborn puppy. "I don't know if the puppy died at birth or if it died right after," Pacheco concedes. "But there was one newborn puppy that was dead and another one only a couple of days old that was still alive." The survivor is with its mother in another location, she says.

The animals were taken to the Denver Animal Shelter and are said to be in decent shape, considering their living conditions; staffers are currently evaluating if any or all of them are adoptable.

While there, Pacheco says, she spoke with Linda Rumery, fifty -- and naturally the topic of how the clan had accumulated so many animals came up.

"She told me it started with one," Pacheco notes. "And then she got another one, and another one, and it just spiraled out of control."

How long did it take to get to that point? Pacheco reveals that "the youngest dogs had just been born, and there were four month olds, six month olds. The oldest were about three years old." After a pause, she says, "Hopefully, this wasn't happening for the whole three years."

Linda, Ken (age 57), Karla and Nelson (both 24) each received a summons for animal cruelty this week. They're scheduled to make their first court appearance on November 1.

When asked how the case compares to other examples of animal hoarding she's seen over the years, Pacheco, a fourteen-year veteran of the department, acknowledges that it wasn't the all-time worst, "but it was pretty bad. It's in my top five."

More from our Photos archive: "Photos of the Day: Rhonda Bernard is a lot worse housekeeper than you are."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts