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60-plus sick and injured animals removed from Hialeah home

The cops, prosecutors and pet rescuers who converged on Ileana Arnais and Rubin Dario Arrojo’s Hialeah townhouse Thursday knew that behind the front door they’d find horribly mistreated animals wallowing in urine and feces.

The affidavit that a judge signed authorizing a search warrant on the peach-colored townhouse, in the 5300 block of West 26th Avenue, described in nauseating detail dozens of sick, injured, starving, flea-ridden dogs and cats with eyes, ears and noses oozing mucous.

But the malodorous mess stunned even seasoned law enforcement officers. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said a veteran prosecutor from the homicide division told her it was “the worst crime scene he’d ever seen.’’

Arnais and Arrojo, both 50, were arrested on 34 felony counts of animal cruelty “with intent to injure/kill’’ after a three-month investigation.

That’s just the number of dogs taken from the home between April 7 and May 7. Rescuers took at least 60 more on Thursday, and according to Hialeah police spokesman Carl Zogby, “there will be more charges coming.’’

Rundle said her office asked for $85,000 bail for each suspect, who could face five years in prison for each of the 34 counts.

Rescuers and police found toy breeds like Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, rat terriers, Chihuahuas and Shih Tzus, and some larger dogs, including a 35-pound Mexican hairless.

They also found turtles, tropical fish and birds, squirrel-like marsupials called sugar gliders, rabbits, chickens, a hedgehog and a goat.

By Thursday evening, most of the 60-plus animals — including several days-old puppies — had been placed with rescue groups or with the Greater Miami Humane Society Adopt-a-Pet, according to a veterinary technician at Sky Lake Animal Hospital in Miami Gardens.

Vet tech Gordon Ivanovski said that none of the animals rescued Thursday had to be euthanized.

The case came to the attention of Hialeah Police on April 17, when a pet rescuer named Cira Leslie reported possible animal abuse at the townhouse, according to the affidavit seeking a search warrant.

Leslie, who operates A Better Life Rescue, which took some of the animals, is also a Miami-Dade police officer. She declined to speak to the newspaper, but commented at the scene to a reporter for Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4, that puppies appeared to have been eaten by starving older dogs.

The affidavit says that a dog groomer named Ana Vivas, a friend of Leslie’s, befriended Arnais, and spent months coaxing her to give up the 34 dogs in April and May. The rescued animals included a Siberian husky, a bulldog mix, a Dachshund and a Cocker spaniel, all of which “were filthy, flea infested and smelled of feces and urine,’’ according to the affidavit.

One Yorkie puppy was blind “and another Yorkie was...missing a front paw.’’

Vivas could not be reached.

Some of those dogs had to be put out of their misery quickly, the affidavit says, including a Maltese named Mickey with “deformed legs and paws, spine and head and eyes [that had to drag himself around’’ because he couldn’t walk; a Maltese mix named Macho who “could not control his bowels, and any food he ate would pass right through him without allowing him to receive proper nutrients to thrive,’’ and a brown American bulldog mix with infected ears and eyes that was “barely able to walk.’’

According to the affidavit, when Vivas pressed Arnais to give up more dogs in May, Arnais told a mutual friend that Vivas “was making a big deal out of the situation...She said that you would have thought she had 200 dogs when she only had 50 dogs.’’

When the rescuers, cops, and State Attorney’s Office representatives went inside the townhouse Thursday, armed with a search warrant signed by Circuit Judge Ellen Venzer, they “poured alcohol on their masks,’’ trying to kill the stench, Zogby said.

“I was 20 feet away from the door, and the smell was just unbearable.’’

Many of the dogs “appeared to never leave the house, because of their long toenails,’’ he added.

Dogs that walk on pavement have short nails, since pavement acts as a nail file.

“There was waste everywhere,’’ said Zogby. “They were living in deplorable conditions...There’s no explaining this.’’

He told reporters that the couple “weren’t in agreement that there was a crime. They said, ‘What did we do wrong?’ They lived under these conditions as normal.”

It’s not clear if the couple was breeding animals for sale or simply collecting them, but they seem to fit the Hoarding Animals Research Consortium’s profile.

The group defines a hoarder as someone with an unusual number of animals who can’t provide “even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death.’’

Hoarders also typically deny “the inability to provide this minimum care, and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and the human occupants of the home.’’

The consortium estimates that nearly 250,000 animals “are victims of animal hoarding each year.’’

Rescue groups will try to rehabilitate the animals and place them for adoption. But some remained at the house with the suspects’ son, Alex, 26, who isn’t a suspect.

Zogby said he was allowed to keep “the fish, some of the turtles, and the hedgehog.’’ At least two cats were also visible through a window at the townhouse Thursday afternoon, and a dog could be heard barking.

El Nuevo Herald reporter Esteban Illades contributed to this story.