Another dead llama, its legs sticking out of a broken window.
An emaciated horse, so far gone that it cannot stand up.
A dead dog, laying in the doorway of a trailer under a crate full of garbage.
A box full of dead, rotting puppies.
This is what was in the yard of the house on Funk Road in Calhan that is occupied by James Shugart, Jacquelyn Gray, and Amy and James Gargala. The carcasses and bones of as many as 20 more rotting animals were strewn around the property. The remains of another 17 to 18 dead animals were found in a ditch at a nearby property where the animal owners used to live.
This was three weeks ago.
And as of press time, another 12 dogs and 10 sheep and goats, still alive, remain. "Outrageous?" asks Jerry Rineck, who lives across the road. "It's more than that."
"This is horrible, just horrible," says state Rep.-elect Marsha Looper.
"Obviously the entire situation is of grave concern to us," says Stephanie Bell, a cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
For three weeks, Looper, Rineck and other neighbors out in eastern El Paso County have been living this horror, and trying to get action from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, from the Pikes Peak Humane Society, from anyone who will listen. They've even called PETA an organization that, by their standards, is pretty radical, not an outfit they'd ordinarily warm to. FOX 21 News has aired stories about the dead and dying animals. Channels 5/30 has covered the story.
Three charges of animal cruelty have been filed against Gray, and another against Shugart. One neighbor reports he saw the property owner pick up a dog by the ears and slam him against a van until he was unconscious. Another time, he watched while a dog was beaten viciously with a stick.
Efforts to reach Shugart and Gray early this week were unsuccessful. Humane Society director Wes Metzler, meanwhile, maintains that "there's a lot of misconceptions" about what has happened.
"The conditions out there are pretty bad, physically," he says. "It certainly isn't the conditions that I'd keep [my dogs] in." But, Metzler contends, the animals that were left on the property were "not terribly thin," were in pens and had food and water.
"If we see cruelty and neglect, we remove the animals," he says. "We did not remove the animals that appeared not to be neglected."
Yet several days after the Humane Society's initial visit, Looper convinced the property owners to voluntarily give up several additional animals. She personally took five sick and underweight llamas to her own ranch. Pat Miller of Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue took several dogs, which, during a visit to the vet, were found to have infected tumors and many broken teeth. They had to be put down.
This week, Metzler denied those particular dogs were on the property when the Humane Society was there. But PETA's Bell doesn't buy it. That any live animals were left behind, and in such poor shape, bothers her beyond words.
Rineck, the neighbor, is also deeply shaken. In June, he sold two horses to Gargala, for $600. After an initial $45, Rineck says he never received another payment. When the situation was first discovered three weeks ago, he went to the property. One of the horses was 200 pounds underweight; the other, a stallion, was dead. Rineck walked the remaining horse home, and took in a German shepherd, also underfed and with a broken canine tooth.
He, along with a dozen other eastern El Paso County residents, have since formed a group they are calling Saving Animals In Need Together (SAINT). And if you have any remaining doubts about what is wrong with this scenario, go to peta.org and look at the pictures.
As PETA's Bell notes, they say it all.
To view some of PETA's photos: