Case Snapshot
Case ID: 14028
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: cat, dog (non pit-bull)
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Prosecutor(s): Sandra R. Sylvester
Judge(s): Peter W. Steketee

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Monday, May 5, 2008

County: Manassas City

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Convicted

» Sandra Irene Cortes
» Brenda Elizabeth Dodson

Case Updates: 4 update(s) available

Two women who ran an animal rescue operation in Manassas were charged with animal cruelty this week after investigators discovered dozens of diseased and malnourished dogs in their custody. Some of the animals were standing in their own waste without food or water, and three dogs, abused before they died, were found buried in fresh graves, Prince William County police said.

Sandra Irene Cortes, 44, of Annandale, and Brenda Elizabeth Dodson, 30, of Manassas, were arrested Tuesday [July 1, 2008] and each charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty. Each charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor, carries up to a $2,500 fine and as much as a year in jail. Cortes owns the foundation, the Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation, where Dodson works as a caretaker, officials said. Each was released on $5,000 bond and a trial was scheduled for Aug. 15 in Prince William County General District Court.

The arrests followed a two-month investigation into the foundation at 7605 Old Centreville Rd., after neighbors and several people who adopted animals complained to police in April about inadequate conditions, said Master Detective Samson Newsome, director of the police department's animal control bureau. The investigation continues.

On May 5, police executed a search warrant at the property and found 111 animals, including 16 cats, all of which the foundation voluntarily turned over to the county, Newsome said. Many of the dogs were underweight, and showed "wounds consistent with fighting," court records said. The foundation also was not licensed to have that many animals, he said.

Dodson referred questions to her attorney; a call to the lawyer's office was not returned.

Cortes denied the charges, saying that some of the animals were thin because they arrived in that condition and had not yet recovered.

"We were fattening them up," Cortes said in an interview, adding that the foundation was properly licensed. She also said she had not been informed by police of the specifics of the cruelty allegations.

"We were getting the dogs healthy," she said. "I can't make a dog gain 20 pounds or 10 pounds from one day to the next."

Twenty dogs were discovered in 12 stacked cages pressed tightly together and covered with a blue tarp beneath a shed overhang, Newsome said. The cages -- some of which contained three dogs -- were ill-ventilated, without food or water, and the temperature outside was in the 70s, police said.

"They knew we were coming," Newsome said. "They put these dogs back there . . . in an attempt to conceal" them.

Cortes said Dodson hid the animals there because she was fearful that they would be euthanized by the county.

Three dog carcasses were exhumed from "fairly fresh graves" in the back yard, toward the rear of the property, Newsome said.

Cortes said those dogs had arrived very recently in poor condition and died within hours, before they could be seen by a vet.

"I grew up as a child burying dogs in the back yard," she said, adding that animal control officials told her she should have put the dogs "in the garbage."

Of the animals surrendered to the county, about 60 were adopted and several dogs were euthanized after being seen by a veterinarian, Newsome said.

Necropsies on the euthanized and exhumed dogs revealed that they suffered malnourishment and parasitic infections before they died, police said. According to court records, the dogs included pit bulls, collies and shepherd mixes.

The foundation, on its Web site, states: "We are a rescue group of volunteers trying to help a few lost souls find their way home. We are named for the Patron Saint of Animals, Saint Francis of Assisi. Just as St. Francis, we would like to give hope, love and shelter to a few of God's creatures."

Case Updates

One by one, their pictures appeared on the screen. There was Yeager, a collie mix, who had fleas, dermatitis, two ear infections and heartworm. Wilma, a German shepherd-chow mix, who had pneumonia and was malnourished. And Annie, an underweight, deaf pit bull who was injured by other hungry dogs that were trying to eat the buried remains of three others, according to witness testimony.

Last week, a Prince William County judge heard evidence in an animal cruelty case against two women at a Manassas property billing itself as an animal rescue operation.

Sandra I. Cortes, 44, of Annandale was found guilty by Judge Peter W. Steketee in General District Court of 27 counts of animal cruelty. Cortes, the president of Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation, will be sentenced Dec. 8.

Brenda E. Dodson, 30, a caretaker with the foundation, pleaded guilty to 27 counts of animal cruelty and was sentenced to 18 months in jail and 20 years of supervised probation, during which time she is not to have contact with animals.

In explaining his decision to Cortes, Steketee said Cortes was "overwhelmed" by the number of animals she had.

"Ultimately, the burden was upon your shoulders" to care for the animals, he said. "You failed, and that was cruelty."

During Cortes's two-day trial, the prosecutor, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra R. Sylvester, said Cortes was running "a puppy mill" aimed at turning a profit, not helping animals.

She said Cortes arranged for the transfer of free dogs from out-of-state kennels and then sold them locally for as much as $300 each at adoption events, all the while neglecting their care.

"She wants you to believe this was all philanthropic," Sylvester told Steketee in her closing arguments. The dogs "were so hungry, they were eating dirt because it contained the remains of dead dogs."

Cortes's lawyer, Chris Feldmann, said that his client "was attempting to save these dogs and rescue them" and that the animals were "in somewhat poor condition when they arrived" at the property, in the 7600 block of Old Centreville Road.

The charges stemmed from a May 5 raid at the three-acre property, in which Cortes voluntarily surrendered 95 dogs, including three corpses buried in the yard, and more than a dozen cats to the county.

Many were undernourished, carrying infectious diseases and roaming in their own waste.

Fifty-four dogs and 12 cats were adopted, Sylvester said. About 40 animals were euthanized because of illness or aggressive temperaments.

At the trial, Cortes wept as a veterinarian who inspected the animals described their conditions and the reasons many were euthanized.

In testimony, Cortes said Dodson ignored her orders about caring for the animals.

"She wasn't doing what I was asking her to do," Cortes said of Dodson.

Dodson testified that she had told Cortes that animals were in poor health but that dogs were taken to the vet "a few times."

Cortes and Dodson were charged in a similar case by Fairfax County authorities stemming from the removal of six dogs from a vacant house in the Alexandria area in July.

Last week, Dodson pleaded guilty in that case to one count of grand larceny of an animal and one count of animal cruelty. She is awaiting sentencing next month.

Cortes will stand trial Nov. 5 for three counts of grand larceny of an animal and six counts of animal cruelty, said Erin Sylvester, Fairfax assistant commonwealth's attorney.
Source: Washington Post - Oct 4, 2008
Update posted on Oct 4, 2008 - 8:55PM 
Trials for two women charged with animal cruelty have been continued to October.

Sandra Irene Cortes, 44, of 4004 Rose Lane in Annandale, and Brenda Elizabeth Dodson, 30, of 7605 Old Centre-ville Road near Manassas Park, were scheduled to appear in Prince William General District Court today on 28 counts each of animal cruelty.

Their trials were continued to Oct. 1.

The women operated Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation at 7605 Old Centreville Road near Manassas Park.

The women were arrested in July after a two-month police investigation of the rescue.

Police searched the rescue building in May after receiving an animal cruelty complaint from someone who had adopted a puppy from there.

According to an affidavit filed in Prince William Circuit Court, police found dozens of dogs at the rescue in crowded cages some without access to food and water. Some of the dogs were malnourished and others had parasites, police said at the time.

At the time of the search, Cortes surrendered 100 dogs and cats to the county, according to court documents.

The women also face six animal cruelty charges in Fairfax County. They are scheduled to appear in Fairfax General District Court on those charges on Sept. 9.

Each animal cruelty charge is punishable by up to 12 months and jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Source: InsideNova - Aug 14, 2008
Update posted on Aug 19, 2008 - 12:52AM 
Two women who ran a Manassas animal shelter face more animal cruelty charges after several dogs they allegedly found on Craigslist were found in a vacant Alexandria home.

Brenda Dodson, 30, of Manassas, and Sandra Cortes, 44, of Annandale, were each charged Thursday in Fairfax County with two counts of grand larceny and six counts of animal cruelty.

They were arrested July 1 in Prince William County and charged with 28 counts of animal cruelty after police discovered dozens of diseased and malnourished dogs in their custody.

Fairfax police received a complaint July 18 of several dogs in a vacant home at 6413 Vale St. in the Alexandria area.

Officers found six dogs in the home, without food or water. The floors were covered in animal urine and feces, police said. There was no power, ventilation or water service at the home, and the property was scheduled to be demolished, authorities said.

The dogs were taken to an animal shelter, where some of the owners eventually showed up to claim them.

Several owners said they had posted notices on Craigslist for temporary pet care, authorities said. Others told police they wanted to find good homes for dogs they could no longer keep. Cortes and Dodson responded to these ads and took possession of the dogs under their company's name, Assisi Animal Rescue Organization, police said.

Police said they don't know how long the animals were in the women's care. When the dogs were discovered, Cortes and Dodson were free on bond. A condition of the bond was that they were not to have contact with animals. Now the bond has been revoked, and the two women are in jail. Animal cruelty is a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail.

Three dogs still have not been claimed, and a white pit bull puppy, Patches, is missing, investigators said. Officers said the dog may need care. Anyone with information about the animal's whereabouts is asked to contact Crime Solvers by phone at 866-411-TIPS/8477 or e-mail at Tipsters can also text "TIP187" plus a message to CRIMES/274637 or call Fairfax County police at 703-691-2131.

Fairfax Animal Control Services Supervisor Sgt. Andy Sanderson suggested that pet owners looking for extended boarding or care consider the following tips:

* Know who you are leaving your pet with: family, close friends or close neighbors may be wise choices.
* Make sure pet-sitting services or kennels are bonded and insured.
* Read ratings and reviews of pet-sitting service companies that you are considering.
* Conduct tours of facilities.
* Check for a business license.
Source: NBC 4 - July 28, 2008
Update posted on Jul 28, 2008 - 10:11AM 
The owner of a Manassas animal shelter accused of mistreating dogs is denying the charges.

Forty-four-year-old Sandra Irene Cortes, of Annandale, is the owner of Assisi's Animal Rescue Foundation. She was charged this week with 28 counts of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail. A caretaker at the foundation was also charged.

Cortes says the malnourished dogs that investigators found on the property had arrived in that condition. She says shelter staff were working on fattening them up.

Cortes says three dogs found buried in fresh graves also arrived sick and died within hours, before they could be seen by a vet.
Source: InRich.Com - July 4, 2008
Update posted on Jul 6, 2008 - 1:59PM 


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