COUNCIL BLUFFS — The commercial kennel was a nightmare.
Some of the dogs were dead — one body was rotting in a trash bag on the ground, another stashed in a freezer.
Some of the living were sick.
Mama dogs and their babies were found in plastic swimming pools with no food or water.
Some dogs were simply missing and presumed dead.
All of the dogs belonged to someone, cherished pets, prized hunting dogs, promising puppies.
And the man who ran the kennel?
On Thursday, 35-year-old Dustin Young of Hancock, Iowa, appeared in Pottawattamie County Court for the first time. He had been arrested on suspicion of 36 counts of animal neglect, simple misdemeanors, and four counts of animal neglect, serious misdemeanors.
Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said felony charges weren’t an option under Iowa law in this, one of the worst cases of animal neglect that he’s seen in his 16 years as county attorney.
“Iowa has some of the worst animal welfare laws in the country,” he said. “It is almost impossible to get a decent charge.”
Young, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday, operated Young Gunz, a hunting dog training and breeding company in rural Pottawattamie County, about 30 miles east of Council Bluffs.
The problems at his kennel were discovered May 6 when four dog owners from Colorado traveled to Iowa to check on Young and their animals. One of the owners had become worried the week before when Young did not return his dog as promised and became evasive when asked about the dog.
According to court documents:
The first thing the four men found when they arrived at Young Gunz was several dogs locked in an aluminum trailer parked in the driveway, barking. As the men walked toward the dogs, they discovered underfoot a garbage bag with a dead, decaying dog inside.
That’s when they called 911.
When authorities arrived, they noted that the dogs in the trailer were covered in feces and urine. They found three dogs in a garage outbuilding, sick, with no food or water, and their kennels filled with more urine and feces.
While authorities processed the scene, a relative of Young’s arrived and began to let dogs out of the kennels and give them food and water.
Authorities kept finding more dogs throughout the property. Three plastic swimming pools each had a mother and litter of pups inside without food or water.
When fed by the relative, the dogs acted as if they had not been fed in days, according to a report by authorities.
Investigators checked Young’s house to find it also full of feces.
Three dogs were found dead in a trailer. Two of them were in garbage bags while the third was inside a plastic kennel covered with a tarp, according to the report.
In the basement, investigators found a yellow Labrador retriever frozen in a deep freezer.
On May 8, the property was searched thoroughly by authorities. They were met by Young at his house, who gave them his account of what happened.
Young said he took in a puppy that became sick with distemper, a viral disease that spread to other dogs. He said he buried the puppy after it died and did not tell the owner. He tried to medicate dogs himself instead of contacting the owners, but the sickness “snowballed.”
A total of 25 dogs and 13 puppies were removed by Pottawattamie County Animal Control, and authorities have been trying to match the animals to their owners. The influx strained resources at the Midlands Humane Society, but area animal shelters volunteered to help.
An additional 12 dogs are confirmed missing and presumed dead.
Dog owners who spoke with authorities said that when they recovered their dogs after doing business with Young in the past, they were usually 10 to 15 pounds lighter, with their ribs showing or recovering from wounds and illnesses.
In May, Young said he had been running the business for about 18 months, taking care of hunting dogs for owners across the country while housing animals for locals needing a dog-sitter.
Young bred and trained hunting dogs, and his business specialized in pointing Labrador retrievers.
Young has said he plans to move on once the situation is resolved.
Each simple misdemeanor carries a possible sentence of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $625. Each serious misdemeanor charge carries the possible sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,875. Young paid $20,000 bail and was released from Pottawattamie County Jail. His next court date is July 10.
The maximum that Young would face, if sentences were imposed consecutively, is about seven years, Wilber said. But Wilber said he’s not expecting that to happen.
Wilber said past efforts to strengthen Iowa’s animal welfare laws have gotten caught up in fears about making things difficult for Iowa’s farmers.
“Hopefully sometime there will be adequate enough public support so the laws can be adjusted,” he said.