RAEFORD, N.C. --Investigators have found at least 15 dead dogs in scattered burial sites throughout a Hoke County, N.C. animal shelter property, they confirmed Thursday.
"There were several, several areas where multiple animals were located. Multiple, deceased animals," said Tim Rickey, lead investigator with the ASPCA. "They were in burial piles. Dump sites."
The ASPCA and Hoke County Sheriff's Office are conducting a multi-day sweep of The Haven shelter's 122-acre property, a result of a criminal investigation launched months ago following community complaints.
The public outcry led to the discovery of unsanitary and unfit living conditions for 600 animals in the care of Stephen and Linden Spear.
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The couple is facing a number of animal cruelty charges related to operating the shelter without a license over the past decade.
"Well, I'm not sure why it hasn't been shut down," Rickey said. "I think it's unfortunate, to be honest, that it hasn't been shut down earlier. The conditions we're seeing here didn't happen overnight. This is long-term neglect."
Search warrants were issued Wednesday morning.
When the criminal investigation is complete, officials say the next step will be to find good homes for all the animals.
"The goal is to get these animals adopted," Rickey said. "They came here with the promise of being adopted into a loving home and we intend to fulfill that."