Investigators save 25 animals from unsafe conditions - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Investigators save 25 animals from unsafe conditions

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AURORA (KWWL) -- An Eastern Iowa woman is in jail, charged with 22 counts of animal neglect. Susan Rose Purcell-Varnell is accused of mistreating dozens of dogs and three cats.

Fayette County Sheriff deputies arrested her around nine Wednesday morning. Two animal welfare groups helped rescue 22 dogs -- mostly puppies -- and three cats. Unfortunately, help came too late for four of the animals.

Sheriff deputies executed a search warrant on the home Wednesday morning, with the help of several animal control groups.

"It was very noisy with all the dogs barking in the house," said Sheriff Marty Fisher.

Along with the noise, investigators were confronted with the smell of animal feces and neglect.

Their goal was clear. "To rescue these dogs and get them into a proper place, make sure they're all being treated good," he said.

Fisher said Purcell-Varnell was keeping almost all of the dogs in the home in conditions that would shock most people. Multiple dogs sharing small cages, with very little food that the sheriff could find, and apparently, she was trying to sell the animals.

"A lot of them were puppies," Fisher said. "We were alerted by a consumer who had purchased an animal from this owner."

Purcell-Varnell has dealt with violations in the past. She pleaded guilty to vicious dog charges in 2008 and 2009. In both 2008 and 2010, a Buchanan County judge found her guilty of having dogs at large. Even with Purcell-Varnell's history, this investigation took several weeks, and the sheriff admits, that's longer than he wanted to wait.

"When we get these types of calls, we do all we can to investigate. But there are certain measures we have to go through to get probable cause to obtain a search warrant," he explained.

The dogs and cats are safe at a shelter now. The Animal Rescue League of Iowa took many of them to their shelter in Des Moines. The Cedar Bend Humane Society is caring for the rest.

There were at least two other people living in the home, one of whom witnesses said is a child. The sheriff did not want to comment on the other residents, other than to say they were not arrested.

All of the charges are simple misdemeanors. Fisher said Purcell-Varnell would serve 30 days in jail for each of the charges, if convicted, which could add up to more than two years behind bars.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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