LUBBOCK, Texas — Lubbock County Sherriff’s Office and the Lubbock District Attorney’s Office confirmed this week that they opened an investigation after receiving calls regarding the welfare of dogs in a west Lubbock County home.
A Facebook video posted on December 20 depicts four poodles, who appear to be lifeless, in cages and several others living in unsanitary conditions. The user claimed his dog “Samba” died under the woman’s care.
The woman accused will not be named in this article as no charges have been filed at this time.
Sources said she shows poodles professionally and owns a grooming salon in Lubbock County, details that are apparent from her Facebook profile. Several people from around the world said they entrusted the woman to care for and show their dogs in American Kennel Club shows. Two of those people told KLBK News they cannot account for the whereabouts of their dogs.
Martha Carroll-Talley said on Sunday that she placed seven dogs in the woman’s care several months ago. Five of them lived but two of her dogs died.
Another woman, Sue Talkington, told KLBK News that her standard poodle “Honey” was under the woman’s care and is also missing.
“She hasn’t presented my dog or told me where my dog is and I’ve asked her several times in text,” Talkington claimed.
Talley, along with several others, told KLBK News that the woman told them a pitbull entered the yard in July 2020 and killed a kennel full of poodles, including two of Talley’s dogs, Cheech and Ring Ring.
However, sources said they were so concerned by their friend’s unusual behavior that Melissa Heatherly, who claimed to have lived and worked with the woman on the property for an extended period of time, drove from Birmingham, Alabama to conduct a welfare check on December 18.
When she arrived, Heatherly said the woman was not at home. She said she believes she had the right to enter the property.
Heatherly said when she first entered the house, she found hundreds of empty beer containers and cigarette butts. The dogs in the house, she said, were females, severely matted, and covered in fecal matter.
“There’s probably two inches of poop on this floor,” she said, showing KLBK News photos and videos.
Next, Heatherly said, she entered the kennel in the backyard which housed the male poodles. She said she walked in and captured video showing four poodles who appeared unresponsive in separate cages. The voice in the video said the name “Martha” and sounded similar to Heatherly’s voice.
“I was a vet tech for eight years. I’ve seen little dogs torn up by big dogs,” Heatherly explained after seeing the dogs. “There was no blood.”
Heatherly said she didn’t see anywhere a pitbull could’ve gotten into the yard and because the dogs were placed in separate cages, she doesn’t believe they died from a pitbull attack.
Instead, Heatherly along with several others, said they believe this is a tragic accident. Her friends mentioned some potential personal issues that officials have not confirmed or ruled out.
Talley asked, “How does a kennel full of dogs die in Lubbock, Texas? They either get starved to death or they overheat and die.” Most sources said they believe the dogs died in July from overheating, when the woman told them a pitbull killed several dogs.
Because most of the dogs weighed less than 5 pounds, Talley said she thinks overheating could happen easily.
Heatherly said the woman arrived at her home moments after she arrived and invited her “friend” to stay the night. Heatherly said she agreed and stayed in a camper, which KLBK News saw parked at the property on Wednesday. Heatherly said she helped clean the house on December 19, before convincing the woman to relinquish 9 of the 11 dogs who were still alive.
The woman agreed, Heatherly claimed.
“I didn’t go up there planning to pick up a bunch of dogs. Just was going up there for a wellness check,” Heatherly explained.
Talley said as soon as she knew Heatherly left the property, she called the police.
LSO sent a police report to KLBK News on Tuesday:
“The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to the 5700 block of CR 1200 in reference to an animal call. On Sunday December 19, 2021, the Sheriff’s Office received an animal call regarding the welfare of dogs. When deputies arrived and spoke to the owner who allowed them on the property, they did observe water and food for the dogs on the premises, they did not observe any dead dogs as mentioned on the initial call. Since the initial call, deputies have received reports of concern citizens in regards to the welfare of these dogs. As with any case, it’s crucial that the right information is collected in an orderly way. This is still an active investigation.”
However, the Lubbock District Attorney’s Office gave KLBK News a statement on Monday that acknowledges something “tragic and unacceptable” occurred:
“What happened in this case is tragic and unacceptable. Unfortunately, the evidence in this case was obtained by an illegal entry onto private property by a private citizen. Texas law states that illegally obtained evidence, even by private citizens, cannot be used. The District Attorney’s Office cannot pursue charges at this time.”
Kevin Kornegay, an attorney at Chad Jones Injury Lawyers in Lubbock, said on Wednesday that “intentionality” is often times a factor in determining whether or not criminal charges can be brought in cases of possible animal cruelty and/or neglect.
Hypothetically, Kornegay said, “Intentionally concealing wrong acts would be a factor that would show it was an intentional act- not a negligent act. The fact that it took place over time would be a factor in showing [intentionality].”
When KLBK News visited the property, we noticed animal feces in the front yard that could not be avoided if someone were to walk through the grass.
While there were no reports of dogs tethered outside, Texas Leash Law says dogs must have the ability to avoid their waste. If they are tethered in conditions where they can’t avoid their waste, Texas law considers that criminally punishable under “animal cruelty.”
The photos and videos we received may depict conditions where dogs can’t avoid their own waste.
“It doesn’t seem fair for the people who really have lost their animals. It’s real, real, really sad,” Heidi Flores said about the lack of charges by the DA’s Office. Flores explained that she got her dog back last summer before things had “gotten worse.” She said her dog wasn’t in any condition to be shown professionally.
Marie Olsen, a woman who claimed she also had a dog under the woman’s care, said her standard poodle, Pearl, was brought back alive by Heatherly, but had been bred and also wasn’t in any condition to be shown professionally.
“I feel like she needs to be punished and have her AKC privileges revoked to where she can never participate in the show world. Plus, I don’t believe she should be grooming dogs,” Talkington said.
Talley said the incident is inexcusable.
If the pitbull attack is true, “She should have called the owners and tell them what happened. Maybe not immediately, but at least within 24 hours,” Heatherly explained. “But for six months and dogs are still laying in the crate dead…”
Heatherly said she hopes the woman gets the help she needs.
KLBK News attempted to contact the woman several times to get her side of the story, but we have not received a response. We have not been able to confirm whether she has an attorney.