The smell of animal urine was so powerful that Susan DeGuzman could detect it from outside the garage.
When the Charles County animal control officer entered the La Plata residence with a warrant May 22, she found a staggering scene, according to court documents.
More than 230 guinea pigs and 10 Shih Tzu dogs were living in "deplorable conditions," inside the garage on Fairgrounds Road, the papers filed in Charles County District Court said. The owner of the home, Richard L. Rohland, was alleged to be selling the animals. A Shih Tzu customer tipped off authorities to the squalor in his garage, the documents said. The customer described animals living cramped in cages in a dark room littered with feces and stained with urine. Dead animals also were on the premises, authorities said.
Rohland was charged with cruelty to animals and operating a commercial animal establishment without a license, both civil infractions.
On Thursday, District Judge Richard A. Cooper denied a petition by Rohland to have the animals returned to him. Veterinarian Mark E. Hocking, who accompanied animal control officers on the raid, recommended that the removal of all animals from the house was "necessary for the health and well-being of the animals," his affidavit said. Many of the animals were "in desperate need of veterinary care," it said.
Roland was accused of animal cruelty once before, in November 1987, the affidavit said. At the time, authorities seized several dogs that "were not socialized," and some had "broken limbs and infected lesions," according to filings in the current case. The investigation by DeGuzman also found that Rohland had left 15 guinea pigs at the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville since last November.
"All of the guinea pigs had to be euthanized because of various health problems, including missing and broken limbs, tumors, open wounds, and hair loss. Their coats were dirty, and they had a strong odor," the affidavit in support of the warrant said.
In a letter to the judge, Rohland offered explanations for his actions while seeking the return of his animals.
At the time of the raid, he wrote, "I was renovating my kennel." Rohland said he planned to order more cages to give his animals more space. He said he usually provided the animals with water every night, but by the time the officers seized his guinea pigs, "the bottle happened to be empty in late afternoon."
Rohland wrote that he could not install ventilation equipment for the guinea pigs because the "sonic sound may cause miscarriages and kill the babies." His letter also said that because there was rain during the week of the raid, "I was unable to clean up the sanitary condition."
"I am a kennel breeder, and I don't breed sick animals," he wrote. "I endeavor to be a good breeder."
For the civil offense of cruelty to animals, Rohland faces fines of $50 to $500 for each count, Assistant County Attorney Josh Hamlin said. The fine for operating a commercial animal establishment without a license is $150, he said. The Animal Matters Hearing Board will make a determination on the cases.
Since the raid, the animals have been moved to the Tri-County Animal Shelter, where they have been attended by veterinarians. Usually the shelter houses about 140 animals, said a county representative, so the additional 244 animals have strained the shelter's resources.
"They're in a much better situation now at the shelter than they were in," said Hocking in an interview. "They're doing a really nice job over there. . . . This is a tremendous responsibility to take on."
The shelter is encouraging anyone with experience handling small pets to volunteer to help care for the hundreds of guinea pigs. Shelter supervisor Joanna Snow can be contacted at 301-932-1713.