An Atascadero woman accused of animal cruelty pleaded not guilty to 14 charges at a court hearing Thursday, following the seizure of 46 dogs she is accused of keeping in “unsanitary conditions” at her home.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed three felony charges of cruelty to animals against Suzanne Marie Sollenne, 58, as well as 11 misdemeanor counts of failing to care for an animal and failing to provide a confined animal with an exercise area.
Sollenne was arrested Aug. 18 and briefly booked in County Jail before being released on $20,000 bail, according to court records. On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman appointed a public defender to the case prior to Sollenne entering her plea.
Authorities say Sollenne kept the dogs in a 1,700-square-foot, two-story home on the 7400 block of Bella Vista Road. A warrant was served at the house by the county and the Atascadero Police Department after law enforcement received tips that dogs there were living in unhealthy conditions and some needed medical care, said Eric Anderson, director of San Luis Obispo County Animal Services.
During the search, Anderson said the majority of dogs were found housed on the second floor, many in metal crates without access to food or water. Some suffered from only routine ailments, but others were seriously debilitated, he said. Some were malnourished, others had eye injuries and dental problems, and many were found with bite wounds from other dogs, Anderson said.
The county claims to have found the decomposing remains of two dogs in a yard next to the house.
On her CustomMade profile from 2012, Sollenne listed herself as an artisan tile-maker who has been “rescuing and rehoming death row dogs since 1993.” Since her arrest, several county residents have supported Sollenne on social media and claim to have adopted dogs from her over the years.
In an email to The Tribune on Sept. 13, Sollenne denied the county’s side of the story and said she’s rescued and rehomed about 500 “death row dogs” in the 22 years she’s lived in San Luis Obispo County.
Sollenne wrote that during the early morning search, some dogs were still in the crates they slept in, but most were sleeping loose in the house. Contrary to Anderson’s claim, she said many dogs were sleeping downstairs, where a pet door allowed them outdoor access. The loose dogs on the second floor had access to the first floor and the yard, Sollenne said, and a 20-gallon water bucket most had access to sat just outside the pet door.
“I am not a hoarder,” she wrote.
Following the hearing Thursday, Sollenne declined to comment further because her case is ongoing. However, she said she had not yet been told which dogs she is accused of abusing, nor how they were specifically abused. She said she expects to learn more about the charges against her at her next court appearance Oct. 12.
After Sollenne’s arrest, most of the dogs were housed in a temporary shelter outside the Animal Services main facility. The majority have been transferred to the main shelter or to other public and private shelters for medical treatment and rehousing. Woods Humane Society is raising funds to replenish its veterinary care fund in order to take in and adopt out as many of the dogs as possible, the group wrote in a news release.
Anderson said Sept. 9 that at least three dogs were euthanized: two for severe medical issues and one for extreme aggression.