Activists played key role in arrest of Chandler woman accused of abusing special needs dogs
Sep 23, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: 10:07 pm
(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)
PHOENIX – The Chandler Police Department arrested an Arizona woman Friday on suspicions of animal cruelty, officials said.
April McLaughlin, 48, is facing 55 charges of animal cruelty. Her arrest followed weeks of social media activism from a network of animal rights advocates.
Rebecca Arizmendi, a board member of Texan shelter Yaqui Animal Rescue, led the charge.
She said she sent two disabled dogs named Cheko and Butters to McLaughlin’s organization, the Special Needs Animal Welfare League (SNAWL).
However, after McLaughlin failed to provide updates on the dogs’ well-being, the Yaqui Animal Rescue started investigating SNAWL. It allegedly received anonymous footage of dogs in hoard-like conditions at McLaughlin’s house.
Arizmendi and two other members of the Yaqui Animal Rescue traveled from Texas to Arizona. They also reached out to local animal rescues for help – including Chandler-based Be Like Josh Foundation, whose founder is Kimberly Elliott.
“I go way back with April,” Elliott said on Instagram. “Along with a few other rescues, we tried to expose her back in 2019. We did. All she did was simply lay low for a while and acquire 13 additional aliases.”
She allegedly told the Yaqui Animal Rescue that SNAWL was a scam rescue.
Social media pressure to help the special needs dogs began
The Yaqui Animal Rescue also connected with Koco Garcia, the founder of Phoenix-based nonprofit Handover Rover.
Garcia begged the public for help in a video posted to her TikTok account on Tuesday. Various animal rights organizations shared the clip, which has expletives.
“The laws don’t protect these animals,” Garcia said in the video, “but social media does.”
@handoverrover Shes known for “Clyde The Super Husky” We need help making phone calls to the Chandler City Mayor and Council, here is what you can say or email: ✅Multiple videos circulating of a hoarding and neglect case of special needs animals ✅April Addison is continuing to bring in more special needs every week ✅She is running a 501c3 under false pretenses ✅She is stealing money from the public and is and not providing adequate care ✅We have a case # from Chandler PD: 23-104385 ✅She is actively deceiving AHS. She was witnessed removing dogs from her property prior to a planned home check. ✅Chandler PD and AHS have their hands tied due to the ordinance of Chandler ✅She has 40+ special needs dogs in her 1000sqf home. ✅The smell of death that radiates from her house is a disturbance to her neighbors. ✅Case number from Chandler PD: 23-104386 We have filed police reports and involved AZ Humane, THEY NEED MORE HELP FROM HIGHER UPS… Call and email: 480-782-2200 email@example.com Mayor Kevin Hartke firstname.lastname@example.org *PLEASE CONTINUE TO SHARE, EMAIL AND CALL UNTIL WE CAN GET OUR DOGS SEIZED AND RETURNED #fyp #chandler #az #help #specialneedsdogs ♬ 【No drums】 Emotional space-like epic … – MoppySound
Garcia urged social media users to contact Chandler officials. She also took her case to the city council meeting on Thursday.
“These are not just dogs. These are dogs that are paralyzed, these are dogs that are blind, these are dogs that can’t fend for themselves even if they wanted to,” she told officials.
“There are recordings of outsiders, of passersby, of neighbors that have recorded these dogs dragging themselves through the 115-degree weather through her filth-ridden backyard,” Garcia said. “It’s an atrocity.”
Court documents related to McLaughlin’s Friday arrest acknowledge “an increase in calls” related to the animal cruelty allegations.
Further, the Chandler PD commented on the case prior to the arrest.
“The Chandler Police Department is aware of a social media post alleging a case of animal abuse occurring in our city,” police announced Wednesday, adding that an active investigation was underway.
Information from a vet triggered the police search
Evidence from the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) helped police secured the search warrant.
Welfare workers with the AHS had visited McLaughlin’s home on Sept. 9, court documents said. They noticed a strong odor of urine and feces near the front door, along with a large cluster of flies.
“AHS was able to see a dog named Butters that was related to the original complaint,” court documents said. However, they said Butters’ ribs were now visible, while before they weren’t. They also said McLaughlin refused to let them enter her home.
AHS allegedly arrived again three days later, noticing dogs in the backyard with exposed raw skin and immobile legs. “The ammonia smell was extreme,” court documents said.
On Sept. 19, AHS once visited McLaughlin home. During this third visit, they identified five dogs in especially dangerous conditions, court documents said.
Afterwards, they called a a veterinarian, who provided key information that spurred police to secure a search warrant, officials said.
When Chandler officials arrived at her home on Friday, the smell of urine and feces was reportedly so powerful they called the fire department to test the air quality.
Shira Scott Astrof, founder of California non-profit Animal Rescue Mission, was on the scene with other activists. She shared this video on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
No water for the special needs dogs, officials said
Urine and feces caked the walls, court documents said. An industrial hygienist deemed the air quality dangerous and told officials to put on self-contained breathing apparatuses.
“The majority of the 55 dogs around the home were in need of immediate medical attention due to the various injuries,” court document said. “The majority of the dogs dragged themselves to get around or shook due to neurological issues.”
None of the animals had direct access to water, court documents said.
Ultimately, officials seized 55 dogs. They also found five dead puppies stored in the freezer next to food, court documents said.
McLaughlin told officers she started the rescue to help dogs with special needs and show they can be adopted, officials said. However, she allegedly admitted that she hadn’t adopted any of the dogs out to other homes.
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McLaughlin’s also accused of abusing her mother
In addition to 55 counts of animal cruelty, McLaughlin is also facing one count of abusing a vulnerable adult.
McLaughlin lived with her mother, who was hospitalized after a stroke around 2020, court documents said.
She told officers she couldn’t access her bank account since her daughter had control over all of her finances.
An investigator asked how McLaughlin’s mother felt about living with her daughter. She allegedly said, “I’d be better if I had more food.”
McLaughlin’s mother told officers she slept on a couch in the living room. There was no room for her in the bedrooms; the dogs had taken them over.
“The last time she slept on a bed was three years ago,” court documents said.
Officials deemed the house condemned due to the home’s condition and poor air quality.
The Yaqui Animal Rescue also announced it planned to condemn McLaughlin to a legal battle.
“We filed a class action lawsuit against April McLaughlin to address the endlessly reported issues of animal abuse and neglect, and to advocate for the welfare justice,” a Saturday announcement on Instagram said.
“We have to figure out which dogs are still alive, and if they’re even capable of getting out of the Arizona Humane Society,” Arizmendi said on Instagram.
Additionally, she thanked everyone who spread the word.
“We had an amazing, diligent team that worked 24/7 for three weeks to take this woman down,” Arizmendi said. “We had hundreds of thousands of people demanding justice from all over the world … it became a global movement to save all of these animals.”