GASTON | Seizure of 100-plus Chihuahas is largest neglect case handled by Washington County animal shelter
by: Chase Allgood, Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter in Hillsboro is now home to 141 dogs seized from a Gaston-area home last Friday. In time, many will be adopted out, even this Chihuahua, which was born without a lower jaw.

Over the course of a day, the Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter in Hillsboro went from a quiet home for 108 stray cats and dogs to a veritable canine refugee camp.

Last Thursday morning, Washington County Sheriff's deputies helped a handful of animal shelter employees gather up 141 dogs - mostly Chihuahuas - from the Gaston-area home of Carolyn Ohlhauser, 59.

Along with the dogs came 14 chickens, five exotic birds and two horses. The animals had been living for months in filthy carriers, two or three to a box. Feces covered the floor of the small farm house.

Upstairs, Ohlhauser lived with her daughter and three granddaughters. The children were taken into foster care on Thursday.

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Ohlhauser was charged with animal neglect and child neglect.

The animal seizure is the county's largest since the 1990s and the biggest animal neglect case that the Bonnie Hays shelter has ever handled.

'We're maxed out, very much so,' said Susan Field, shelter spokeswoman. 'We have them spread all through the shelter, wherever we can find space.'

As of Monday, the shelter was packed to the gills with 249 animals, including 25 babies.

As soon as the trucks arrived on Thursday, the 20-person shelter staff rushed to figure out which animals were in dire need of medical attention. After triage, all the animals were wormed.

Ohlhauser seemed to have kept up with feeding the dogs, but at some point stopped cleaning up after them.

'Apparently she used to be a licensed kennel and was raising these things. At some point it used to be fairly clean out there, but at some point it got away from her,' said Sgt. David Thompson, Washington County Sheriff's spokesman.

While few of the animals seemed malnourished, shelter volunteers still have their work cut out for them.

'Since these dogs were crated, living in filth, they will need some house training,' Field said.

Many of the dogs haven't been socialized and before they can be placed in new homes, they'll need to get used to being petted and cuddled.

'That's where our volunteers are coming in, changing water and paper and giving them that TLC that they need,' Field said.

Volunteer Eilene Luethe has been on box duty, keeping the crates the Chihuahuas are living in clean and giving them a little attention.

'Some of them aren't so friendly, but they just haven't been around people,' Luethe said as she picked up a particularly snarly little dog.

Field said that it could be a while before many of the unsociable dogs are ready for adoption. And even then, prospective donors are going to get a rigorous screening.

Families with very small children aren't ideal. Prospective donors with experience with the tiny breed will likely be first in line.

'After Paris Hilton, everybody thinks they can have a Chihuahua, but they have special needs,' Field said.

Dog aid

As of Monday, 2,000 pounds of puppy food and $4,000 had been donated to the shelter to help with the dogs' recovery. By Wednesday, the shelter was reporting that adoption applications were no longer being accepted because of the overwhelming response. Call 503-846-7146 for up-to-date information about donation needs.

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