Duo From Rescue Operation Faces Animal Cruelty Charges

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008

Two women who ran an animal rescue operation in Manassas were charged with animal cruelty this week after investigators discovered dozens of diseased and malnourished dogs in their custody. Some of the animals were standing in their own waste without food or water, and three dogs, abused before they died, were found buried in fresh graves, Prince William County police said.

Sandra Irene Cortes, 44, of Annandale, and Brenda Elizabeth Dodson, 30, of Manassas, were arrested Tuesday and each charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty. Each charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor, carries up to a $2,500 fine and as much as a year in jail. Cortes owns the foundation, the Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation, where Dodson works as a caretaker, officials said. Each was released on $5,000 bond and a trial was scheduled for Aug. 15 in Prince William County General District Court.

The arrests followed a two-month investigation into the foundation at 7605 Old Centreville Rd., after neighbors and several people who adopted animals complained to police in April about inadequate conditions, said Master Detective Samson Newsome, director of the police department's animal control bureau. The investigation continues.

On May 5, police executed a search warrant at the property and found 111 animals, including 16 cats, all of which the foundation voluntarily turned over to the county, Newsome said. Many of the dogs were underweight, and showed "wounds consistent with fighting," court records said. The foundation also was not licensed to have that many animals, he said.

Dodson referred questions to her attorney; a call to the lawyer's office was not returned.

Cortes denied the charges, saying that some of the animals were thin because they arrived in that condition and had not yet recovered.

"We were fattening them up," Cortes said in an interview, adding that the foundation was properly licensed. She also said she had not been informed by police of the specifics of the cruelty allegations.

"We were getting the dogs healthy," she said. "I can't make a dog gain 20 pounds or 10 pounds from one day to the next."

Twenty dogs were discovered in 12 stacked cages pressed tightly together and covered with a blue tarp beneath a shed overhang, Newsome said. The cages -- some of which contained three dogs -- were ill-ventilated, without food or water, and the temperature outside was in the 70s, police said.

"They knew we were coming," Newsome said. "They put these dogs back there . . . in an attempt to conceal" them.

Cortes said Dodson hid the animals there because she was fearful that they would be euthanized by the county.

Three dog carcasses were exhumed from "fairly fresh graves" in the back yard, toward the rear of the property, Newsome said.

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