46 dogs seized, Atascadero woman arrested in possible cruelty case

What’s next for the 46 dogs seized from an Atascadero home?

Eric Anderson, director of San Luis Obispo County Animal Services, explains the fate of 46 dogs seized from one Atascadero home Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.
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Eric Anderson, director of San Luis Obispo County Animal Services, explains the fate of 46 dogs seized from one Atascadero home Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.

An Atascadero woman was arrested on suspicion of felony animal cruelty Thursday after officials found 46 dogs living in “unsanitary conditions” at her home, authorities said.

About half of the dogs suffered from some significant medical or physical condition, with the most prevalent injuries being bite wounds from other dogs. Many were malnourished, some had eye injuries and dental problems, and a few are suffering from some sort of neurological disorder, Animal Services Director Eric Anderson said Friday.

In addition to subpar living conditions, officials discovered the decomposing remains of at least two large dogs in a yard next to her house, according to a news release from San Luis Obispo County Animal Services.

Suzanne Sollenne was arrested on suspicion of felony animal cruelty at her home on the 7400 block of Bella Vista Road. She was booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail after a search warrant was served by Animal Services, the Atascadero Police Department and the Bakersfield SPCA.

Sollenne was no longer in custody Thursday night. As of the end of the business day Friday, no formal charges had been filed against her by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

Sollene could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a profile from 2012, Sollenne listed herself as an artisan tile maker who has been “rescuing and rehoming deathrow dogs since 1993.”

According to the profile, all proceeds from sales of her artwork go to support her “dog rescue.”

The warrant was served after authorities received “credible information” that Sollenne was housing dogs in unhealthy, overcrowded conditions. Another tip indicated many of the dogs needed medical care.

Anderson said Friday that most of the 46 dogs were confined to the upper floor of the 1,700-square-foot home, and about half of those were in metal dog crates. Many were allegedly without access to food or water.

Officials had trouble removing some of the dogs from the home. One animal services employee was bitten, and officers needed to tranquilize five large dogs in order to examine and transport them.

The dogs included a wide variety of breeds, though most were medium- to large-sized. Anderson said the dogs’ conditions varied widely, from some that suffered from “relatively routine” conditions to others that were “significantly debilitated.”

The dogs are being housed in a temporary shelter set up at the county’s livestock area behind the animal services center’s main kennel, which is already full.

The animals will be held for a few weeks as the staff tends to the dogs in most immediate need of treatment. Staff will work on temperament assessments to determine which can be moved into the main kennel as space becomes available, he said.

The goal is to treat as many dogs as possible, Anderson said, and rehabilitate them so they can be placed in new homes or with a rescue organization.

A few probably will need to be euthanized, he said.

“There does appear to be a couple which do have some very serious physical problems,” he said. “We’re really considering whether or not that would be the welfare decision for those animals. But that’s really a very small number of this group.”

While many of the animals were highly agitated and aggressive when they arrived to the shelter, most have calmed down significantly.

“I’m not a guy that claims to know what dogs are thinking, but they clearly appear a lot happier,” Anderson said as he walked down a row of the shelter, petting the dogs and touching their noses through the crates. “It was amazing, once we got them down here, their temperament and behavior changed.”

Anderson said community members interested in assisting can drop off old and towels and blankets to the shelter’s main office at 885 Oklahoma Ave. in San Luis Obispo. Anderson said to please not bring quilts or blankets with threads that can snag or otherwise harm the dogs.

Mark Powell: 805-781-7915; Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1