PHOENIX -- Police made a gruesome discovery in a van on Monday: dirty crates with layers of food, feces and other filth. In 13 cages lived 12 dogs, 22 cats and one pigeon, and they were all piled to the ceiling of a 1996 Dodge Ram van found in Phoenix.
"They were matted, they were under heat stress, they were very emaciated, ill; some of the worst we've seen," said Bretta Nelson with the Arizona Humane Society.
She said all of the cats needed to be put down, along with three of the dogs. Nine other dogs and the pigeon survived.
The van's passengers, Alva Stout, 78, and his sons Gregory Stout and Alan Stout, both in their 40s, were all arrested for animal cruelty. But their alleged crime became far worse when crews discovered their wife and mother, Lola Mae, 73, dead inside the same vehicle.
Phoenix police said this started Sunday in Quartzsite, Ariz. The family is homeless but that's where they had been staying, and they decided to relocate to Phoenix. They loaded their belongings and all those animals into their van and during that time, police say the mother passed out. Instead of calling 911, they just put her in the car.
Police said the family then made the two-hour drive to Phoenix, only checking on the mother once and saying she was a bit unresponsive. Once they arrived in the city, they noticed she had died. Emergency crews then arrived and noticed the animals a short time later.
With that sad and bizarre twist, the three suspects will also face charges of elder abuse.