Dog hoarding case leads to questions about state animal welfare system

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DES MOINES, N.M. — In a small town, news travels fast. And when it includes extreme cruelty to animals, it travels just as fast through the New Mexico rescue system.

“They were failed by the very people that were supposed to be saving them, And that’s what’s crushing to me,” said Monica Eppinger, the founder of Portales-based Labor of Love Project.

She is talking about 19 year-old Jessica Duncan, and her boyfriend, 21 year-old Hayden Briesh. They’re charged with extreme cruelty to animals after an investigation at the property where they were staying in Des Moines, New Mexico, in June. The young couple is still on the run today.

Union County Sheriff’s Department confirmed deputies found more than 100 dogs on the property, including more than 70 that were dead.

According to Eppinger, they were advertising a big dog rescue on social media.  KOB was not able to find that Facebook page, but lapel footage proves family members had the same belief.

But this – was no rescue.

Deputies found small kennels in the property’s garage stacked three high, some with multiple dogs in them.

Many were past the point of saving.

Briesh and Duncan signed over custody of the dogs in the garage the night of the deputies’ response. They claimed they had a few more rescues and their own personal dogs in the house. But when deputies came back a day later with a search warrant… the couple was gone. And they left behind more than “just a few dogs.”

“It is bad. It’s like chainsaw massacre but with dogs bad,” one deputy said, after a quick search of the home.

They left that day and called the ASPCA to help with survivors.

The ASPCA took thirty dogs, a Colorado rescue took about ten. Some of those dogs have since been adopted out.

This case left a question that tore through the New Mexico dog rescue network…how did dogs continue to end up at this property?

“I’m angry, I’m hurt,” said Monica Eppinger. “There are no excuses for why this should’ve happened.”

She says three dogs she rescued from Portales animal control somehow ended up there.

Eppinger explained there’s a process for some dogs… they’ll go from one rescue group to another before reaching their final destination. She thinks Jessica Duncan broke that chain of trust between organizations more than once.

“She had no outlet. She had no funding plan. She had no partnerships. She had no plans whatsoever of what she was going to do with this countless number of animals,” said Eppinger. “It was avoidable. That’s what kills me. It was so avoidable.”

Albuquerque-based NMDOG Founder Angela Stell echoes that feeling.

“If you can’t again take the time to get yourself where you’re sending these dogs, then you don’t need to be doing it,” said Stell.

Stell was one of deputies’ first calls after their initial response, to see if she had room in her rescue.

“A lot of counties in New Mexico still don’t have an animal welfare, animal control department. So it always kind of falls on the- in the laps of the Sheriff’s department,” said Stell. Union County is one of them.

“Pulling as many animals, or saving as many animals as you can, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about quality of life, quality of placement, quality of their futures,” said Stell.

If you see or know where these suspects might be, contact the Union County Sheriff’s Department.