A Rowe man is facing an animal cruelty charge and four other counts after authorities discovered dozens of dogs, including about 20 puppies, on property he rented in the community.
Animal advocates say they alerted investigators to a potential case of animal storage and abuse more than a year before Darren McDunnah, 62, was arrested on Friday; more than 60 dogs in his care were seized on Monday.
The Humane Society of the United States assisted law enforcement in seizing the dogs.
“Between overcrowding and a lack of resources, these dogs have had to struggle to survive. It will take them some time to adapt to a life where their needs are met and comfort comes first,” Jessica Johnson, senior director of crimes against animals for the organization, said in a statement.
The humane society said the dogs were kept outside in “crowded and dirty enclosures, some with no apparent access to food or water”. The dogs were not spayed or neutered and several females were pregnant, the organization said. He declined to reveal the dogs’ current location.
Law enforcement officials said the delay in seizing McDunnah’s dogs was largely due to a lack of animal control resources in San Miguel County and a lack of capacity at local shelters. for the care of the dogs while the criminal case continues, which is why the humanitarian society got involved.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed with the San Miguel County Trial Court, an investigator from the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office visited Rowe’s property following a report that a golden retriever had was killed by a bite to the neck. The investigator noted “large amounts of blood” on the face of one of the dogs at the site and reported dismal conditions.
McDunnah and Tiffany Azlan White, who brought several of the dogs to the site, claimed the animals were part of a hybrid wolf pack, according to the affidavit.
A Humane Society spokeswoman said in an interview Tuesday that veterinarians examining Rowe dogs had no reason to believe they were part wolves.
White has not been charged in this case. But court documents show she and McDunnah racked up a string of charges in northern New Mexico related to the custody of their dogs.
Court documents show White lives in Embudo, where an investigator visited her in February and reported seeing around 40 dogs that she told him were “her half of the pack”. She faces nine misdemeanor counts in Rio Arriba County for having pets in the home without a rabies vaccination.
McDunnah was convicted in 2018 of 10 counts in Santa Fe County for keeping 22 “wolf hybrid” dogs at a home in Pojoaque. He was also convicted in Maine in 2015 of defrauding a church out of $400,000, records show.
Angela Stell, who runs a dog rescue in Albuquerque, said property owner Rowe called her about the dogs in McDunnah’s care long before the district attorney’s office launched an investigation. She first contacted the San Miguel County Sheriff‘s Office in February 2021, she said, adding that every time she visited the site she saw dogs with open gashes and a obvious lameness.
The owner did not return a phone call Tuesday to comment on the matter.
“I toured the property, documented a bunch of stuff,” Stell said. “I never got a response from the sheriff’s department for a very long time.”
Stell then contacted the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, which sent a letter to the sheriff’s office in March 2021 urging the agency to investigate his concerns.
San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said in an interview Tuesday that his office has looked into the complaints. “It’s something we had already worked on very closely,” he said. “I guess…they wanted something to happen sooner.”
Lopez said law enforcement officials are still trying to determine who is the legal owner of the dogs in an effort to get the owners to waive their rights.
District Attorney Thomas Clayton said his office is working on a petition that would hold homeowners fiscally responsible for salvage costs, which would likely amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
The arrest warrant affidavit says White transported about a dozen “wolf hybrid” dogs to the Rowe property in the summer of 2020. The landlady told him she couldn’t keep the dogs there, according to the affidavit, so she agreed to make sure they were gone within days.
However, the dogs never left the property after White dropped them off.
A few days later, according to the affidavit, McDunnah arrived at the residence with a horse trailer full of more dogs.
White describes herself on a Santa Fe-based website, emissarywolfpack.com, as “the guardian of the Emissary Wolf Pack, a family of wolf dogs, descended from a Red Wolf mother.”
White is also listed as the executive director of a non-profit organization called Global Relief Resources Inc. A Facebook page for the organization says she “has a history of working with women and water in Africa,” but has more recently become an “umbrella” for “wolf pack work education.”
A December 2019 post on the Facebook page says a pack of “wolf dogs” have been moved to a 500-acre ranch “to allow them to help run a restorative eco-farm with zero-food production. poison”. There were several now-defunct fundraising pages looking for donations for fencing, dens, and food.
White did not return a phone call Tuesday.
The seizure of the dogs in Rowe recalls a similar policing operation near the community in 2019. In this case, a woman claimed she ran a pet shelter.
Dozens of these animals ended up in the care of the Animal Welfare Coalition in Las Vegas, NM, for nearly a year.
“We’ve had a lot of issues in terms of giving up animal rights,” Lopez said of the case. “We ended up having to take care of the animals for a very long time. It was very expensive.”
Animal Welfare Coalition executive director Martina Holguin said the extra animals have created a strain on financial and human resources, and “brought our organization to its knees”.
In an interview Tuesday, she expressed concern about other possible cases of animal stockpiling in San Miguel County and the lack of law enforcement.
His organization alerted law enforcement to Rowe’s dogs in 2020, Holguin said.
Lopez and Clayton agreed that their agencies aren’t always equipped to handle such cases.
“I really wish we could, I guess, earn more resources to work on some of these cases in a timely manner,” Lopez said.
Clayton said, “Given the volume, we have to allocate resources. I can tell you from a local perspective, those resources are scarce.”