OWEN COUNTY, Ind. — Dead dogs and rats on an Owen County property can be smelled from a half mile away and could attract disease. Now Iner-Tec, a pest control company, is removing the animals’ bodies in compliance with a court order.
The property on Shepard Road has been at the center of a long cleanup process for a month.
Margaret and Paul Purcell helped rescuers pull 83 dogs, still alive, from their rat-infested property. At the time, they were living in a van because the house was no longer livable.
Neighbors, who four weeks ago were shooting rats off their porches as the infestation spread to their yards, say they can’t believe they’re still dealing with this nightmare.
The county health department still considers the property a health hazard, with piles of junk lying around the property along with bodies of exterminated rats and dogs who died before rescuers arrived.
After 13 years living next door, Sean Flynn says he’s sick and tired of worrying about his health because of his neighbors’ way of life.
“They had a septic issue that ran across my property, diagonally that way,” said Flynn. “And it’s just disgusting. Now we have a rat problem. It’s just one problem after another.”
Even though thousands and thousands of rats were exterminated, Flynn says he and other neighbors still can’t live like they want.
“The smell is unbearable,” said Flynn, “Makes you want to puke. Can’t even go outside. And then the bugs attack you.”
To get rid of the smell and prevent diseases from spreading, the court ordered that removal of the dead animals start Tuesday.
John Reeves, who works for the county’s health department says in his nearly three decades working there, he’s never seen any animal hoarding situation this bad. He says the health department can only move to clean things up as quickly as the courts allow.
“We’re just trying to remove and clean up as best we can,” said Reeves. “There’s so much debris on the property, I don’t think you’d ever be able to get it all without taking a dozer and lifting up the top of the property itself. “
Another court order weeks ago called for the health department to test neighbors’ water. Reeves says those results came back as “satisfactory”.
But Flynn says he and his girlfriend are still uneasy because the test only detects bacteria, not rat poison.
“We have to drink bottled water,” said Flynn. “We can’t cook with our water either. That’s a big problem. And who knows what the soil looks like with all this poison down and all the feces, dog feces and human feces.”
The cost of cleaning eliminating the health hazard, Reeves says, is staggering. He says the county has not even begun to estimate the total cleanup cost.
That’s why Flynn says everyone in Owen County should pay attention.
“They may not live next to this, but they’re going to pay a lot in taxes to clean this up and to stop this problem,” said Flynn.
More big bills for the county may be on the way, at least in the short term.
Strengthened ordinances would give the county the teeth needed to intervene in similar hoarding situations. And both men say they’re certain there are many more homes like this one.
“There’s other houses out there,” said Flynn. “There’s other ones they have to deal with and there’s probably a lot of people like me that have to deal with it for years and years.”
A newly-created animal welfare taskforce is in the process of studying other ordinances to decide what should be used in Owen County and what enforcement mechanisms would give strength to the ordinances.
Right now, Reeves says the laws don’t prevent the Prucells from creating a situation like this again on the new property they’re living at.