Animal control officers and Erie County sheriff’s deputies found dozens of emaciated animals and four children living amid animal waste and filth Wednesday, and charged two Clarence residents with at least five counts of animal cruelty and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Authorities executed warrants against Amie Burkley, 36, and her husband, Matthew, 37, late Wednesday morning, after receiving a tip that horses had died on the property two or three weeks ago, said Jerry Schuler, Clarence animal control officer.
Schuler described the scene of animal hoarding at the couple’s Goodrich Road home as something out of a “horror story.”
“The smell of the house was overwhelming,” he said.
Sheriff’s Detective Christian Parisi said officers found a small pig, six dogs, and numerous cats, prairie dogs and guinea pigs inside the white clapboard house at 7360 Goodrich Road, between Lapp and Wolcott roads. Fecal matter from the animals was found in the living room, bedrooms and elsewhere, he said.
Schuler added that more than two dozen other animals and livestock appeared to be sick and starving in a dilapidated metal barn outside.
Two of the couple’s four children, all of whom are under 18, were at the house and helped investigators identify the animals. The children did not appear to be in ill health, though they were underdressed and outside without socks, Parisi said. They have been temporarily removed from the custody of the Burkleys by Child Protective Services and are staying with relatives, he said.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Mary Murray said the four children are believed to range in age from 7 to 15.
The distraught mother, Amie Burkley, returned to her house briefly Wednesday afternoon, then drove off in her own car without comment.
Parisi said the Burkleys told him that they became overwhelmed by the burdens of looking after so many animals during the past few months and seemed genuinely remorseful.
Schuler said he spoke with the couple on several past occasions regarding his concerns about the livestock, but never gained permission to enter their house until executing a warrant on Wednesday. It appears the Burkleys were trying to “rescue” animals they had no resources to care for, he said.
“They understand they’re doing something wrong,” he said, based on his conversation with the couple, “but they don’t know how bad it really is.”
He described the case as the worst he’s seen in his 15 years as an animal control officer in Clarence.
Out in the barn and elsewhere on the property, officers took possession of more than two dozen livestock, including horses, cows, goats, pigs, llamas, an alpaca, tortoise and countless chickens and geese. They were being evaluated by veterinarians for much of the day Wednesday.
The barn held only half a bale of hay for all the animals on site, Schuler said. “If you saw them, they were like living skeletons,” he said.
He added that a passing good Samaritan dropped off 15 bales of hay to get the animals through the night.
Most of the livestock are being treated on site, Schuler said. The pets inside the house appeared to be in better shape, though several were ill and one dog was partially paralyzed.
The Burkleys surrendered all of the animals to the town. So far, three of the dogs have been euthanized, Schuler said, and some horses also may have to be put down.
The Burkleys were released Wednesday afternoon after their arrest and were issued tickets to appear in Clarence Town Court at a later date to answer the misdemeanor charges against them, Parisi said.
Schuler said the town is working with other agencies to find housing for all the animals that have been surrendered and are currently under town care. A sign on the door of the Burkley residence declares the home “unfit for human habitation.”
News Staff Reporter Janice Habuda contributed to this report.