Two weak puppies sat on a couch on the front porch that spanned the length of the Southwestern-style, one-story home, struggling to keep their heads upright.
On an adjacent couch, flies swooped over the body of a dead puppy.
Welcome to an area south of Tucson near Old Vail Connection Road and the Old Nogales Highway, a place some people call “Dogpatch.” It’s an area where small houses and trailers on dirt roads spread across the desert, and where residents own a lot of animals.
It’s also a place some people come to abandon animals they no longer want – or dump carcasses.
“Dogpatch is an area that we’ve known about for a long time,” said Jayne Cundy, public service supervisor for Pima Animal Care Center. “It’s an area where dogs are known to wander and animals are abandoned there.”
The rescue group Angels for Animals of Tucson has been going to Dogpatch on weekends for the past year to rescue dogs. Nancy Maddry started the nonprofit rescue group in December 2009 when it became evident there was a need to rescue abused and abandoned animals in the area.
“I started to find other rescue groups in town to take these animals, but nobody was keeping track of where the animals were,” Maddry said. “I thought somebody had to take over here.
“I started out with nothing. Not knowing phone calls to make. Nothing. It wasn’t my intention at that point to start a rescue. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself.”
Maddry said she called Paige Beitz and Kathy Worrell, two women that she knew were interested in Dogpatch, and suggested that “we have our own rescue.”
Along the way Mark Tradup and Margie McPhillips joined the rescue, and that’s where the group stands today.
Recently, the group’s five members went to Dogpatch to give parvovirus vaccinations to a litter of 16-week-old lab-pit mix puppies at Oralia Bacahui’s home, and that’s where they found the puppies on the couch.
The group lifted the animals’ weak heads to give them water. One of the puppies stared at the bowl of water in front of him. It took effort for him to bend his head and lap up a sip.
Tradup kneeled to give the dogs vaccinations.
He then searched around the yard for the rest of the litter. Garbage piles cluttered the front edge of the yard. A square stucco house with faded red trim around broken windows stood on the side of the property. An empty, wooden doghouse surrounded by shrubs was next to it.
One dead dog lay under a dilapidated, gray car encompassed by tall weeds next to a tiny duplex. Tradup crouched down to grab another sick dog under the car.
Officers know Dogpatch
Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy Laurence Jove said his department is used to going to Dogpatch. “We get calls like that in the area all the time because there are so many loose dogs,” he said. “It’s all trailer parks, trailers and dirt roads.”
Jove added that Bacahui’s stucco structure, which was used to birth the puppies, was covered in feces. “I have never seen it worse,” he said. “What made it worse for me was that the landing was clean and that’s where the homeowners are going in and out, but the entire yard was covered.”
Maddry and Worrell rushed the dogs that were still alive to the vet, while Beitz waited for the sheriff’s department and the Pima County Health Department to arrive.
Parvo is a virus spread from animal to animal. It can be contracted through feces and the soil. It’s deadly with puppies, and by the time they exhibit signs of parvo, they’re already desperately ill.
Cundy said the virus is 100 percent preventable with a vaccination, and owners can get parvo vaccinations for their animals at feed stores for about $10 or go to low-cost shot clinics for about the same price.
Jove said he went to the house after Angels for Animals called. Bacahui ultimately was cited for not following the state’s 72-hour feces law, which requires owners to pick up feces within that time frame.
Bacahui said she had been gone four hours that day when Angels for Animals called her. She said she had not seen her puppies that morning.
“My son gave them food this morning and we left because we were late for church,” she said. “I did see them last night, and they were fine running around. I didn’t really think nothing of it when I didn’t see them running this morning. I just figured they were probably somewhere in the yard.
“They were fine yesterday. It’s the last thing I expected for them to be dead.”
But Jove said the puppy on the couch probably had been dead for a few days.
“The smell was bad, and there were flies there,” he added.
Trying to save puppies
The rescuers took away three puppies that were still alive. One had to be put down at the vet. Another one was given a 25 percent chance of survival, but it died two days later.
Worrell fostered one of the puppies from the litter. Maddry said the puppy is thriving and now in a permanent home.
Angels for Animals has had issues with Bacahui in the past.
Bacahui told Jove she had a litter of puppies in May, and of the five puppies, four died of parvo. The other puppy got loose and was run over in the street.
Pima Animal Care Center also has picked up Bacahui’s animals before. In September, PACC found no water on the premises and took away the animals.
“There were 10 [dogs], and it was a hefty price what they wanted to charge for me to get them back,” Bacahui said. “It was pretty difficult to get them back. They said I can take one, the dad, but I wasn’t going to leave the mom and the puppies.”
Cundy said animals are impounded if they have no water and there’s nobody home. “If the owner comes forward, we will release the animals to them, but they have stipulations,” she said. “They have to correct the problems.
“We are not going to put them back where they are going to be in danger.”
Maddry said that Bacahui was required to make an appointment for her male dog to be neutered before getting her animals back. Once the female was done weaning the puppies, she had to be spayed.
According to PACC, the first impoundment fee for unaltered dogs is $125, and each microchip costs $13.
Bacahui said it’s hard to pay the costs of caring for her animals. “With the litter that we had it got a little difficult, but they had their food and water,” she said. “The only thing we didn’t count on was them getting sick.”
Killing parvo with bleach
Beitz said about 95 percent of [parvo] can be killed with bleach, but Bacahui’s property [is] a lot. I’m sure there are places they didn’t get to. Supposedly they did but clearly they did not.”
Jove added: “If she had lost puppies six months ago to parvo, she should know to either fix the animals so it doesn’t happen again or to clean the feces to prevent that from happening again.”
For now Bacahui is looking for a home for the mother, a lab mix named Princess, and the father, a pit named Zorro. Both animals are now spayed and neutered and up to date on their shots.
“We’ve told her no dogs,” Maddry said. “You cannot have any more dogs.”
At first Angels for Animals was eager to press charges, but Beitz said, “I spoke with the sheriff’s department and was told that although it was a [bad] situation, there’s really no grounds for pressing charges.”
Meanwhile, Jove said that Angels for Animals “is doing a good job. [The Sheriff’s Department] doesn’t have the manpower to do things like that. We prioritize the crimes that we deal with, and that’s human life, property and then civil matters.
“We do respond to dog bites and things of that nature [like] loose dogs that have been hit. We just don’t have the manpower to do what they are doing, to patrol areas and look for stray dogs, document their health and try to get them adopted.”
Beitz said Angels for Animals will continue its rescue mission in hopes of saving more animals from abandonment, abuse and death.
“It will go maybe a month with one or two deceased [animals] and that’s it,” she said. “But then out of nowhere you go down there and it’s like a bloodbath. I’d like to think that it’s slowing down, but I don’t think it’s going to slow down enough to where people actually get the point.”