A dog trainer and animal rescuer in Waxahachie is facing a charge of animal cruelty after more than a dozen animals were found dead in bags on her property, the Ellis County Sheriff's Department says.
Officials with the sheriff's department were asked to perform a welfare check at the home of 69-year-old Gayle Justice, the owner and training director at the home-based Maximum K-9 Dog Training and boarding facility on the 200 block of Panorama Loop.
Deputies visiting her property Wednesday reported a foul-smelling odor, but said Justice refused to let them inside. The deputies left only to return Thursday with a warrant -- soon after they began seizing dozens of animals.
At the home deputies reported finding as many as 20 dead animals being kept in bags while dozens of others, including 69 dogs, three cats and one macaw, were living on the property.
Lt. James Saulter with the Ellis County Sheriff's Office said Justice said she didn't think she did anything wrong by boarding the animals and didn't see any problem in housing some in cages while allowing others to run loose.
She said some of the animals were hers and others were animals she'd rescued. Though her business offers boarding and pet sitting, it's not yet clear if any of the animals seized had owners.
The school's website, maximumk-9.com, said Justice and her husband Walter live with five English bulldogs, seven German shepherds, four cats, two Moluccan cockatoos, two blue and gold macaws, three African greys, one Quaker parrot, two sun conures and one Sulphur-crested cockatoo.
Saulter said that Justice has been charged with one count of animal cruelty so far, but may face more charges as the investigation continues.
"I know they're [deputies] misrepresenting me," said Justice.
Justice said she's done nothing wrong, but couldn't answer why dead animals were found on her property.
"Like I said, my brain is just overloaded right now," said Justice. "I'm just totally exhausted."
The animals that survived were brought to the SPCA in Dallas for medical treatment.
"Several animals were covered in fleas, some had incredibly long toenails and there were several that were thin all the way up to emaciated, to the point where it just worries me to look at them," said Maura Davies, with the SPCA.
People who live in Justice's neighborhood said they knew something was wrong at her property.
"I said something has got to be done because that dog has got to be rescued or something," said Frank O'Toole. "But I didn't know the magnitude of how bad."
Waxahachie Now magazine published a story on the couple and their animal shelter/rescue program in a May 2008 feature.
NBC 5's Johnny Archer contributed to this report.