Skip to main content

55 Abused Dogs Rescued in Arizona After Months of Social Media Activism

This grim case continues to take shape as activists condemn the Arizona Humane Society.

by Nisha Gopalan
Updated September 27, 2023
Small white handicapped dog, part of the Arizona hoarding case.
Courtesy of @theanimalrescuemission and @shirascottastrof
The letter "W" from the Wildest logo

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

See our privacy statement to find out how we collect and use your data, to contact us with privacy questions or to exercise your personal data rights.

Update, September 27, 5:30 p.m.: We adjusted the headline to better reflect the social media activism that drove this rescue. Additionally, some of those activists contend that both the police and Arizona Humane Society — who are reported to have euthanized five dogs on Tuesday — did not act for months after being notified of McLaughlin’s abuse. Here is one account.

On September 22, April McLaughlin, who ran a dog rescue in Chandler, Arizona, called Special Needs Animal Welfare League (or SNAWL), was arrested after law enforcement entered her house with a search warrant. The warrant came after police received “information from a veterinary professional regarding the condition of three dogs,” AZ Family (a CBS News affiliate site) reports. McLaughlin was booked on 55 counts of animal abuse, 55 counts of animal cruelty, and one count of vulnerable adult abuse because her older mother lived in her home. Most of these dogs were mixed-breed dogs with special needs, living in hoarding conditions.

How activism has played an essential role

The police response came after several animal activists sounded an alarm on social media, among them: Koco Garcia, Kimberly Elliott, Becca Isabel, Deity Animal Rescue, Andrew Hangartner, and Shira Scott Astrof of the Animal Rescue Mission (ARM). They banded together to spread word about a bubbling class-action suit against McLaughlin (who went by several aliases) instigated by individuals and organizations who had negative experiences with her involving animal abuse.

They also allege that both the police and Arizona Humane Society did not act for months after being notified of McLaughlin’s abuse. On Tuesday, 12 News reported that the humane society had euthanized five of the 55 rescued dogs, something that the activists are noting as they ask for the dogs to be placed in safe foster homes.

According to AZ Family, this went as far as Texas to the Yaqui Animal Rescue, which had asked McLaughlin to take in two of their special-need canines. After subsequently seeing pictures of the dogs looking frail, they went to her house to check on them in person. Horrified, they soon posted evidence of abuse on social media.

The grim details

The scene at McLaughlin’s home was horrific, to say the least. Police were met with foul odor that neighbors had previously complained about. (“It smells like dead animals and there are flies in my front yard, in my house, in my backyard. It’s ridiculous and the dogs bark 24/7,” one neighbor said to AZ Family.)

Inside, reports 12 News (an NBC affiliate) they discovered dogs in “kennels that were stacked, in some cases up to seven feet tall, inside the two bedrooms, the kitchen, garage, living room, by the front door, bathroom, and backyard.” The stench was so strong that firefighters even wore breathing apparatuses. Ultimately, 55 dogs were taken from the home, but also found five deceased puppies in a freezer.

The bigger problem

In addition to the latest alarming updates on how the Arizona Humane Society is handling this case, it also sheds light on an issue that has upset animal advocates for years: the lack of federal laws regulating rescue and foster programs.

This has put the onus on states, counties, or cities to proactively draw up laws themselves. Many, of course, do not. In this case, the state of Arizona does not require permits to start an animal shelter (just a business license), a bureaucratic process that garnered headlines five years ago after police seized 45 cats and dogs from an abusive Phoenix animal shelter.

The Wildest previously spoke with animal-welfare experts to advise adopters on what to expect from dogs rescued from hoarding situations, and how to nurture them through such trauma. Dr. Frank McMillan told The Wildest that dogs’ responses to trauma are as varied as humans’ responses to these situations. So, taking in a dog traumatized by a hoarding owner may be indeed a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

For many, the accountability in McLaughlin’s case already feels achingly unjust. All of the 110 charges against her are misdemeanors, while a judge set her bail at just $2,500 in cash. ABC News reports that when asked by police why this travesty occurred, McLaughlin said that “she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with storing food next to the dead animals in the freezer. She also said she had been running the rescue for a year and had taken on too many dogs.” 

Related articles

nisha gopalan illustration

Nisha Gopalan

Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.