CHANDLER, Ariz. - The woman who police believe is responsible for the neglect, abuse and deaths of dozens of dogs is free as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office asked Chandler Police detectives to do some more digging into the case.
Chandler Police submitted more than a hundred charges of animal abuse and cruelty as well as a vulnerable adult abuse charge against April McLaughlin.
After her arrest on Sept. 22, the county attorney’s office furthered the case back to Chandler, and she’s now free as of Sept. 27. The department tweeted that they are seeking the public's help for information in the case.
We're uncovering more about what led up to this case and how Chandler Police had been called for a welfare check months prior.
McLaughlin may be out free now as Chandler continues the investigation, but our investigation reveals five different Chandler Police reports alleging animal or elder abuse.
Many of the reports stem back to 2019.
In one report, a woman from Texas tried to get her dog back from McLaughlin claiming there was abuse based on Instagram photos she saw.
What signs did authorities miss before finally entering a house packed with dogs?
‘You can’t unhear that’
For weeks, dog rescue advocates sounded the alarm on her Chandler home, knowing dozens of special needs animals could be in danger.
Grace Dunlop arrived at the property near Pecos and Cooper roads on Sept. 20.
"This is so upsetting," she said.
What she discovered is something she will never forget.
"Hearing the cries and the barks of the dogs at the front door. You can’t unhear that. I will probably never hear something like that ever again," she said.
Dogs living in filth, some unable to walk and trapped outside in the heat.
"I could smell the dog urine, the dog feces. I could smell filth from that far away. Just getting out of my car, I knew what I was seeing wasn’t exaggerated online," Dunlop said.
Several rescuers say they trusted 48-year-old April McLaughlin with disabled dogs they put in her care.
‘Extremely evil person’
Chandler Police served a search warrant on Sept. 22, arresting McLaughlin on more than a hundred charges.
Fifty-five counts of animal abuse, plus 55 counts of animal cruelty and failure to provide medical care.
Court documents say police found more than 50 dogs living in their own waste without access to water in the 950-square-foot home.
Investigators say a majority of them had injuries and needed immediate medical attention.
Police discovered five dead dogs in a freezer.
The next day, McLaughlin appeared in front of a judge.
"I agree wholeheartedly with the state. No animals. Absolutely no animals. Good luck miss," the judge said.
McLaughlin is also accused of abusing her elderly mother who lived in the home and slept on the couch, eating food from the same freezer containing the dead dogs, documents say.
"It takes an extremely evil person to treat not only animals the way that April did, but her own mother. The fact that she was sleeping on a couch and hadn’t slept in a bed in what I think was years is absolutely horrendous," Dunlop said.
A previous interview with FOX 10
According to records, McLaughlin goes by multiple aliases including April Addison.
It was in 2019 when she spoke to FOX 10 about her nonprofit rescue group.
"I rescue special needs dogs because it’s my passion and I want to help as many dogs as I can," she said on June 23, 2019.
At the time she was fundraising to start "Special Pawz" – now known as Special Needs Animal Welfare League.
"I’ve chosen to save them and adopt them into my family," she previously said.
It was four years before police say she admitted to losing control of her living conditions.
On the night before McLaughlin's arrest, Sept. 21, the Chandler City Council heard from Koco Garcia with Handover Rover.
Koco Garcia with Handover Rover
"There are over 30 rescues nationwide and out of country that have sent dogs to this woman. She lied to us. She scammed us," Garcia said.
Marbles is a blind dog that Garcia rescued out of Mississippi.
She says April McLaughlin introduced herself as Taylor McKinley, a name registered to the 501(c)(3) organization Special Needs Animal Welfare League, according to the state’s corporation commission.
Garcia and several rescue groups claim they stopped getting updates from McLaughlin on the dogs they saved.
Chandler Police say calls for the animal cruelty allegations ramped up in early August, but the city’s current ordinance is a challenge. Just ask the Arizona Humane Society.
"We work with 15 jurisdictions in the Valley and Chandler is one of two that does not have an animal ordinance and that’s what made this case particularly challenging for us because we could not seize under a hoarding ordinance or could request seizure for a hoarding ordinance or for lack of medical care," said Tracy Miller, director of field operations with the Arizona Humane Society.
According to Chandler’s municipal codes regarding dogs, there’s nothing written about hoarding or a limit on how many dogs can be kept on a property.
"City manager … could we adopt our own ordinance in the future to make our lives a little easier? Hoarding and failure to provide care, things like that," Chandler Councilmember Matt Orlando said during the meeting.
‘It smells like death on the property’
Rebecca Arizmendi runs Yaqui Animal Rescue out of Texas.
"I felt very dismissed by multiple agencies," she said.
She says she started calling the Arizona Humane Society in July, not knowing the condition of two dogs she rescued, Butters and Checo, who lived at McLaughlin's home.
AHS made its first of three checks on Sept. 9, documenting clusters of flies, injured dogs, and an extreme smell of ammonia from outside, but the agency was denied entry into the home.
Arizmendi drove from Texas to Chandler and says three police officers also responded.
"It smells like death on the property, and they said, ‘Well, yeah.' All three of them agreed. They all agreed that they were uncomfortable with what they saw. They said we wouldn't want our dogs to be there," Arizmendi said.
Alleged abuse of her own mother
FOX 10 obtained a Chandler Police report from late June for a welfare check at McLaughlin's home.
She gave police the name Sydney Taylor with the alias of April Addison.
Adult Protective Services initiated the call for elder abuse after police say McLaughlin’s mother Kathleen McLaughlin walked into a library, telling staff she was being mistreated by her daughter.
An officer arrived at the home and spoke to McLaughlin from inside her car.
Per the report, she said she had medical and financial power of attorney over her mother, telling police she kept electronic devices away from her mom who had been scammed for thousands of dollars in the past.
The case was closed after the officer wrote that the elderly woman looked healthy and showed "no visible signs of abuse."
GoFundMe for April McLaughlin's mother: https://www.gofundme.com/f/8ex6h7-hope-for-abused-elder
‘This could have been prevented’
"It is infuriating to know that those authorities in Chandler, Chandler Police Department, knew about this. About this. This could have been prevented," Arizmendi said.
Four police reports in 2019 document multiple people requesting welfare checks, alleging animal cruelty at McLaughlin's home.
A report in September says the caller smelled a strong animal odor, claiming several dogs lived on the property.
In October, two people reported animal abuse and one officer reported going inside, seeing six dogs appear healthy and that McLaughlin told him about an inspection by AHS the week prior.
In December, an officer did a welfare check for a dog named Rex who a rescue group believed had been put down.
The report says McLaughlin confirmed Rex had been euthanized due to medical issues.
"I don't believe the hoarding, if you want to call it that, was as significant as it was today as it was back then. But, I do know that those rescuers also try to get the authorities involved and say, ‘This woman has a problem,'" Arizmendi said.
She and her team believe McLaughlin took in roughly 62–70 dogs this year alone.
They're not far off.
Fifty-five dogs were seized, five dogs were found dead and AHS says McLaughlin surrendered two canines during an earlier visit this month.
"I don’t see how a lot of them are going to come out alive," Dunlop said.
FOX 10 reached out to Chandler PD to ask about that welfare check in late June and if the officer smelled and heard what may have been coming from McLaughlin's home.
We have not heard back.