Over 100 animals rescued from Van Buren Co. home

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LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. - A Van Buren County couple has been charged with animal cruelty after over 100 animals in poor condition were taken from their home.

Donald Smith

Donald Smith

Deputies went to the home Tuesday in the 56000 block of 52nd Avenue after a nearby farmer called to say a dog killed a chicken. There, they found 108 dogs, eight cats, five horses, and a donkey in what they say were "horrendous conditions."  The couple -  Donald Smith, 40, and Melissa Copen, 45 - were taken into custody and charged with animal cruelty.

"Immediately upon exiting our patrol car, this smell of ammonia and feces was overwhelming," said Lieut. David Walker of the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office. "The walls, the counters, and the computer was all covered with feces."

Ten officers spent over eight hours gathering, tagging, and photographing the animals. Many of them were underweight, had mange or fleas, or other injuries and deformities.  There was animal waste in and outside the home and a lack of food and water.

Lt. Walker says the couple believed they were helping dogs that had been neglected. The dogs multiplied after they mated.

"They felt they were doing the right thing here," said Lieut. Walker. "We proved just the opposite. This was not a loving, caring home. We had animals covered in feces and disease and not properly sheltered with no food, no water, and dead and sick animals."

Melissa Copen

Melissa Copen

All the animals are currently being cared for by the Van Buren County Animal Control Division and other rescue organizations.

However, Copen said she asked for help prior to those charges and didn't know who to trust.

"I asked animal control for some help and they promised they would help me," Copen said. "I gave them 25 dogs and they said they would be back Tuesday to get more dogs and help us. They came back at 8:30 a.m. with animal control and the cops, and they arrested us."

The couple is out on bond for those two felonies. Copen said she is thankful a majority of the dogs will find a new home but specifically wants her therapy dog back in her possession.  She plans on fighting the charges with an attorney.



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