Five months after Animal Care and Control sprung them from a darkened, garbage-filled, flea-infested home, 23 Shetland sheepdogs are now free to be adopted by loving families, animal rescuers say.
Prosecutors said the Shelties were held as evidence by the city as investigators built a case against Kolja Sustic, 64, and Pat Lim, 63, who officials say had the dogs squirreled away in two Sheepshead Bay home in February.
“Try to understand that these dogs were living in total darkness,” said Julie Canzoneri, who founded Tri-State Sheltie Rescue. “The windows were boarded up, the house is mice infested, flea infested, and there were no utilities. Not only we hoarding dogs, they were hoarding garbage.”
Officials from Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes’s office say Sustic and Lim pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor animal abuse, which requires them to undergo counseling, forfeit ownership of the Shelties, and forbids them from owning any animals for two years.
As a result, the city released the dogs to animal rescue groups this week. The sheepdogs are now in the hands of Tri-State Sheltie Rescue, where they will be treated for a variety of maladies and socialized to live in a healthy household.
Canzeroneri said many of the rescued pooches suffer from exposed bones in their jaws, exposed roots in their teeth, fleas, skin rashes, over-grown nails, and tumors.
“These dogs had never been vetted their entire lives,” she said.
The first batch of Shelties will begin treatment at Noah’s Ark Veterinary Practice in Marine Park this week, where Dr. Brian Abraham will treat the influx of malnourished mutts.
“We’re going to be overstaffed. Myself and another doctor will vet the dogs, see what they need, and then send them to the treatment area and the technicians will take care of them,” said Dr. Abraham.
Canzoneri estimates the cost of treating the dogs to be more than $20,000, and is currently raising funds to pay Noah’s Ark Veterinary Practice, which will do the work up front to get the sheepdogs back into shape.
Between 2002 and 2010, Sustic and Lim voluntarily handed over 26 dogs to Canzoneri while she was working with other dog rescue organizations.
“I believe in 2010 someone called the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, so they decided to give up some of the dogs to beat the heat,” alleged Canzoneri.
However, fearing that more Shelties remained with the alleged hoarders, Canzoneri began calling city agencies and eventually started working with DA Hynes.
At one point, Canzoneri — who had a congenial relationship with Sustic and Lim — introduced undercover detectives working with Hynes’s office to the alleged hoarders, and lead them on a tour of Sustic’s home, which eventually lead to the DA’s officer receiving search warrants for the suspect’s properties.
Prosecutors say Sustic owned a two-family house on Avenue Y that was overflowing with garbage — firefighters actually had to enter through the roof to access the building’s second floor, due to all the junk stacked floor to ceiling, she said — and held 10 Shelties living without ventilation or utilities when Animal Care and Control served the search warrant, according to Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Dianne Malone
“Part of the reason we got involved in this case is the health aspect. Neighbors heard the dogs barking all the time, they could smell the feces from the street, and there were mice and fleas attracted to the house,” Malone added.
In addition to the Avenue Y location, Sustic owned a basement apartment on Bedford Avenue near Avenue U, where investigators discovered the remaining 13 dogs.
After the dogs have been treated by Dr. Abraham, they will be sent to foster homes, where they will begin their socialization — steps that could take months before the abused animals show any progress towards rehabilitation.
“These poor dogs, when they haven’t been living with a person, they’re terrified,” Dr. Abraham explained. “But they’re still beautiful dogs.”Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cn