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Arrests, demolition and more dead dogs in Owen County hoarding case

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UPDATE: Paul Purcell pleaded guilty to animal cruelty on Aug. 8, 2016. He was sentenced to 365 days in jail.

FREEDOM, Ind. -- The worst hoarding case in Owen County history may be worse than initially thought.

“It’s endless,” says Owen County Humane Society board member Gary Cunningham.

Although demolition is underway this week for the house and years of junk and biohazard waste, Cunningham says there’s still much left to do.

He’s been out every day for two months trying to catch the remaining dogs that used to live on this rat-infested property in Owen County.

They’re now in neighbor Sean Flynn’s yard.

“I thought it would be all gone and they’d be caught in a couple days. I didn’t expect this long,” said Flynn.

Two dogs are still roaming Flynn’s yard. If they’re caught alive, that will bring the total of dogs rescued from the rat-infested property to 86. Fifteen more died from the rat poison put down to exterminate the tens of thousands of rats that began to spread to neighbors’ homes over time.

“103 dogs at one time,” said Cunningham. “The property is littered with skeletons. So I don’t know how many hundreds of dogs have suffered the same fate over the years.”

Paul and his sister Vicki Purcell are both facing charges now, with one count of cruelty to an animal and one count of harboring a non-immunized dog. They were arrested last Friday. Court documents show Paul plans to plead guilty. Cunningham is worried that his punishment, after years of only paying fines, will be a slap on the wrist because he's not being charged for every dog on the property.

“Lots of rural counties have literally no animal ordinances,” said Cunningham. “It’s just a kind of a take off of agriculture. Animals are property and they really have no rights. It’s no different than your saw or hammer. You can do whatever you want with it.”

Cunningham and a task force are working to change that, planning to a plan for an animal rights ordinance to the county council sometime this year. Right now, there is none.

“This is ethically wrong,” said Cunningham. “So we won’t stop. We won’t bump into a wall and say oh no, we can’t go any farther. This is just the beginning for us.”

The beginning of the end, he hopes, for similar animal abuse cases.