Animal investigator obtains national recognition for raid in Ypsilanti animal facility

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WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – It didn’t take long for Melinda Szabelski and her team of investigators from the Humane Society of Huron Valley to find dozens of animals kept in unsanitary conditions at the Pet City Pet store ago. a year.

Animals inside the Ypsilanti County store were showing signs of illness, Szabelksi said. Secretions from the eyes and mouth were easily visible, while the cages and aquariums in which some animals were kept were dirty and the animals were left without food or water, she said.

Szabelski, the HSHV’s cruelty and rescue supervisor, was the lead investigator in the case, which was brought to the attention of the humanitarian society by concerned residents. His efforts earned him a “local hero” award in the Humane Society of the United States campaign against puppy mills. The award is presented annually to 14 people across the country who have made a difference by fighting puppy mills in their communities.

“I am honored that people even think of me,” Szabelski said. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to come to terms with because it’s a huge team effort every time we deal with a case like this. I didn’t even know the National Humane Society knew my name, so it was nice to be recognized.

Dead and sick puppies taken in the pet store of the canton of Ypsilanti

The HSHV received several tips from the public regarding the pet store, and the collection of photographic evidence was sufficient to secure a search warrant, she said, leading to the HSHV’s investigation.

“We were getting a lot of complaints about various concerns about possible abuse and neglect regarding the animals at the Pet City Pets store, saying that they were not receiving vet care, the conditions were not hygienic and some of the animals were. sick, ”Szabelski said.

Some of the animals were dying and two puppies infected with the parvovirus were found dead – one next to a heating unit registered at 220 degrees and one that was found hidden behind garbage, Szabelski said. Szabelski’s team seized seven puppies, more than 40 reptiles and dozens of small mammals.

Stuart William Collins, 68, owner and operator of Pet City Pets, was sentenced in November to nine months probation after pleading guilty to one count of trespassing at a pet store, court records show.

He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge after an agreement was reached that the charge would be dismissed under the prosecutor’s voluntary deferred sentence program as long as he successfully completes his probation. In addition, Collins was ordered to pay $ 175 in restitution to HSHV.

Pet shop owner convicted of animal cruelty convicted of violation

“We are so proud of Melinda and the work the rest of our staff and volunteers have done to protect and care for the seriously neglected animals of Pet City Pets,” said Tanya Hilgendorf, President / CEO of HSHV. “We are grateful to people like Melinda, with courage and compassion, who protect our most vulnerable and help shake up this terrible industry.”

Having worked in animal investigation and control for over 12 years, Szabelski attributes his career in part to his love of animals and Animal Cops, a television series that followed animal investigators in American cities.

“Everyone seemed to want to be a vet or a vet tech to get into the animal business, and I specifically remember watching ‘Animal Cops’ and that’s what really piqued my interest and decided’ C ‘is what I want to do, “she mentioned.” I wanted to be up to the knee, helping the animals right away in those situations by watching this show. “

After enrolling in police and training academies, Szabelski began working with animals as a kennel cleaner and made her way into the field, where she dealt with cases of neglect, abuse and endangerment since 2009.

Szabelski has been on the front lines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which she says has caused more deplorable living conditions for animals across the county.

The pandemic, which has caused a 250% increase in requests for financial aid from residents of Washtenaw County, according to county data, has also prompted an increase in calls from residents concerned about animal welfare for Szabelski and her team are investigating, she said.

“Most of the time we respond to contexts that require education, especially during the pandemic when a lot of things are much more difficult for people – it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, sometimes they just have to. need financial help, ”Szableski said.

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