HOWELL — A deplorable situation turned unimaginable as 276 dogs were removed from a township home on Friday in what Monmouth County SPCA president and CEO Ross Licitra called the worst case of animal hoarding ever in Monmouth County and possibly the state.

Howell Police called in the MCSPCA and other animal rescue agencies to the home of Joe and Charlene Hendrick in response to what began as a call about a dog running around the neighborhood.

Licitra said that the animal control officer heard numerous barking dogs coming from the home and estimated there were 20 dogs in side. Rescue teams from the MCSPCA, St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison and the AHS were brought in by Licitra to begin the removal and examination of the animals.

'We were only expecting 80 dogs'

"We were only expecting 80 dogs, which is enormous to begin with. We had a plan in place" with a triage operation to examine, vaccinate and microchip each dog, Licitra said. "When our people were in the house, our people said we haven't made a dent here.

"Eighty turned into 100 and 100 turned into 150, and then 150 turned into 200 and 250, and it just kept going and going."

He said the dogs were everywhere in the house, which Licitra said was set up with tubes for the dogs to go through as if it were a giant hamster cage.

"They just kept coming out of everywhere we turned around. They were coming out from behind furniture. They were in walls" and hiding all around the house. "10 little dogs could hide in a 2-by-2 space. We had dogs giving birth while we're in there adding to the count.

AHS Animal Control Officer Sgt. Kevin Rooney was at the house all day and said it was "horrific" inside.

"The dogs had the run of the whole house. There were no carriers. There were no crates. They built shelves on the walls two or three tiers high and when you walked in all you see are these eyes looking at you from above your head."

At one point Rooney said it was so hard to breath inside he had to wear an oxygen pack on his hazmat material.

"I gotta give Ross a lot of credit. It was very professionally organized and everyone worked great together.

Licitra said the number of dogs in the house is comparable to the number of dogs the MCSPCA normally has up for adoption at any given time.

The Hendricks have not been charged yet but Licitra said animal cruelty and code violations are coming.

"We want to work with them. We're not here to put people in jail. It's obvious they have a problem."

It started with 8 dogs

Licitra said the couple was devastated by the removal of what they consider to be their family.

"They told us they started three or four years ago with eight dogs as a present Joe bought for his wife and then they turned into 276 dogs. There's something psychological there. At one point Mrs. Hendricks said to me, 'Well I was going to call a hoarding place but I'm not a hoarder.' They don't consider what they were doing as wrong."

According to Licitra, one neighbor told investigators they hadn't seen Charlene ever leave the house. Lictra said he had to explain that with so many dogs, when one gets sick hundreds would also become ill.

"It's sad. truly sad," Licitra said. "These are crimes of omission, not crimes of commission,"

Licitra, a former Lieutenant in charge of narcotics with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Licitra had nothing but praise for the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office, which provided equipment to help co-ordinate the removal of the dogs, AHS, his staff from the MCSPCA.

"We couldn't have done it. We would have been there for days and days" without all their support, Licitra said.

He was also grateful to MONOC for carefully monitoring the health of people going in and out of the home. "They were vigilant about it. They wanted to make sure our personnel weren't in there too long. It was like your mom being out there telling you've been in there too long" and you need to step out and get some fresh air."

The dogs are currently being kept at the MCSPCA in Eatontown as well as the AHS and St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison

"Stuffed to the gills. We've got 80 dogs just in carriers in community rooms and every corner of the building," Licitra said, adding that most of the staff will be working on Saturday to check the dogs and make them comfortable. Rooney said the AHS's Tinton Halls office was going to take some of the dogs.

The MCSPCA is looking for donations of small and medium crates/kennels, blankets, towels and Science diet dog food. Donations will be accepted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at their office on Wall Street in Eatontown or their adoption center at the Freehold Raceway Mall.

The dogs are not yet available for adoption.

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