GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The woman who helped lead the rescue of more than 350 dogs in what was called Michigan's biggest animal hoarding case has a history of animal neglect allegations at her Grand Rapids home, Target 8 has learned.
In fact, the latest investigation in October 2011 into conditions at Julie Kowal's home led to three civil infractions and the euthanization of three dogs in her care.
Kowal is also the administrator at the Allegan County Animal Shelter.
The October investigation by Kent County Animal Control started when several pit bulls escaped from Kowal's home at 718 Veto Street NW.
Officers found the door wide open and nobody home. They also found feces littering the home.
"I stood in the doorway and looked inside and I saw that the floor was filled with fecal matter everywhere, and there was debris and household items scattered everywhere," an investigator wrote in a case report.
Three of the dogs had suffered injuries, including one with a bitten off right ear, investigators reported.
--Warning: Some of the above photos and those in the accompanying photo gallery are graphic.--
The investigation led to three civil infractions against Kowal for allowing dogs to run free, filthy conditions and not providing proper veterinary care. It also led to the euthanization, county health officials said.
"I told Julie that the expectation level of care and keeping of animals for her was even higher given that she runs a rescue and she is supposedly helping dogs live a better life," an investigator wrote.
Kowal told investigators the dogs must have been injured while running loose, but records show at least one of the injuries was infected.
"If she is working around animals for her actual day-to-day career-type job, you would expect someone to know what kinds of things need to be taken care of inside the house, what kind of treatment you should get for a dog if it's injured," said Kent County Health Department spokeswoman Lisa LaPlante.
The investigation was the sixth in five years into animal complaints against Kowal at her home. At least one other led to civil infractions for not licensing the dogs. Most involved complaints of alleged filthy conditions and foul smells. Some were filed by neighbors.
Often, investigators noted that it was difficult to reach Kowal, who said she worked three jobs and wasn't often home.
In one case, records show, she had 10 dogs.
"It smells bad," said neighbor Ally DeLange. "I can't imagine what it smells like in the house. She'll open up windows and stick a fan inside it, have it blowing out; it's just all coming towards us, and it doesn't not smell good at all."
A Target 8 investigator stopped by the home Tuesday. The strong smell of animal waste was obvious at the sidewalk. At the front door, it was almost unbearable. Flies were drawn to the front door.
Several dogs were barking inside. Neighbors say they bark constantly.
"Every day, every night, all the time like really loud," DeLange said. "That's all we hear is barking."
"She seems to be a really nice lady. She seems to have a really nice heart and everything, but I think she just doesn't know where the line is between safety and actually being helpful," added DeLange.
Kowal played a major role in finding homes for some of the more than 350 dogs rescued from an Allegan County puppy breeder in April.
Allegan County pays Wishbone Pet Rescue $43,000 a year to run the shelter. As part of Kowal's work at Wishbone, she was hired as the county's Animal Shelter administrator in March. That was five months after the investigation at her home.
She also founded a pet rescue organization known as "Fur to Feathers," records show.
"This is the first I've heard about any complaints like that," Allegan County Deputy Health Officer Bill Hinz said. "You know our contract with Wishbone is to run the shelter. They provide the employees."
He said he plans to investigate Target 8's findings.
On Tuesday, Kowal was at the Allegan County Animal Shelter. When Target 8 approached her, she asked to speak outside.
"I"m just going to graciously decline this offer to do a story, and I must get back to work," she said.
When asked about the dog with the bit-off ear, she said: "That was a rescue dog. I do rescue."
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