Neighbors, rescue fault lack of ordinances in Chandler for lengthy investigation into animal abuse

A neighbor says she's raised concerns about an animal rescue at Chandler home for years and wants new ordinances so the city could have done something earlier.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 6:34 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 27, 2023 at 8:55 AM MST
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CHANDLER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Neighbors in Chandler want to know why it took so long to rescue dozens of dogs after repeated complaints of foul smells and excessive barking. Police said 55 special needs dogs are now with the Arizona Humane Society and many will likely need to be euthanized.

Antonia Martinez lives next door to where April McLaughlin has lived for the last two years. “It was living in hell, we lived in hell,” Martinez said.

Flowers along the fenced-off home serve as a reminder of the horrific conditions these animals were living in. Each one of the photos is of a special needs dog rescued from inside this home. “There was always a lot of barking, the smell, and flies. But the past two years, it was escalating and getting worse,” she said.

Martinez says she tried to report everything she had been experiencing several times. “Basically, they got the run-around and there was nobody to help and until the laws change, you live with it,” she said.

According to the Arizona Humane Society, Chandler doesn’t have an animal hoarding or animal cruelty ordinance. And unlike the city of Phoenix, there is no ordinance against an animal disturbing the peace, comfort or health of a neighbor within the city. “That’s what made this case particularly challenging for us because we could not seize under a hoarding ordinance or request seizure for a hoarding ordinance or for lack of medical care,” said Tracey Miiller, director of field operations for AHS.

Martinez believes the law has to change. “There was nothing anybody could do,” she said.

McLaughlin was finally arrested Friday and charged with animal abuse and cruelty. She bonded out Wednesday morning. “We just keep trying to process, 50 plus. How?” Martinez said. “It wasn’t fair to the animals, it wasn’t fair to the animals, it wasn’t fair to neighbors, it’s not fair to anybody.”

The city of Chandler says staff can review and propose modifications to ordinances against animal abuse and neglect. The City Council would then review and vote on the proposed ordinance at two different meetings open to the public. If it passes, a city spokesperson said it would take effect 30 days after the final vote.

Local animal rescues also believe there are other dogs in the homeowner’s care who are unaccounted for. Koko Garcia runs the rescue Handover Rover. She said through credible sources she came across McLaughlin, who agreed to take in a blind dog named Marbles, needing a foster home. Garcia said she had no idea McLaughlin was an alleged abuser.

In June, Garcia went to Mississippi to help rescue nearly 100 animals and said Marbles was one of them. Garcia agreed to temporarily allow McLaughlin to care for Marbles because she had said there was a foster home available. Eventually, Garcia lost contact with McLaughlin.

Friday, Garcia says she watched as McLaughlin’s Chandler home was raided. “I was there. I was watching all the dogs being pulled out. Eyeballing, we had a list of 57 dogs that we knew were in her care from January had been there. So I was eyeballing, seeing who is who. Of course, looking for my dog. I never saw him throughout the entirety of that,” said Garcia. “There is a possibility that there is a couple dogs hidden away somewhere that we don’t know about.”

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