Kern County Animal Control officials and private rescue groups struggled Monday to care for scores of animals brought in over the weekend from a self-styled rescue center in the Mojave west of Rosamond.
The caretaker -- Duain Preitz -- was arrested on suspicion of felony animal cruelty after officials found more than 200 animals, most of them dogs, suffering from neglect, dehydration, malnutrition, illness and injury.
Most of the dogs were taken to the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield where a frantic effort was underway to treat them.
Officials said Preitz, 61, had been facing an eviction order and called authorities last week for help with what he described as 125 animals.
What animal control officers and staff of the Bakersfield Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found when they got to Preitz's remote rescue property west of Rosamond was a haphazard compound full of 215 animals as well as an undisclosed number of deceased animals
Interim Kern County Animal Control Division Manager Ron Brewster said the mission to evaluate the animals immediately turned into a criminal investigation when officers saw their conditions.
He said a total of 15 animals needed immediate medical attention and were taken Friday to a veterinary office for critical care.
"We could not wait to get the animals off the premises," said Julie Johnson of the Bakersfield SPCA.
But officials struggled with what to do with the rest of Preitz's collection, including horses, cats, ducks, chickens and a pig.
"We thought we could contain them on site," Brewster said.
By noon Saturday, after several animals were injured in fights and some escaped the property, Brewster said it was clear that another solution was needed.
So a massive relocation effort was organized and around 165 dogs were captured, loaded into cages and trucked from Rosamond to a hastily-erected shelter at the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.
"We had about four hours to prepare a temporary shelter for 165 dogs," said Kern County Animal Control officer Nick Cullen.
Over the weekend Kern County Animal Control workers put in overtime hours, after their regular jobs at the county shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue, caring for the animals at the fairgrounds. The fowl, horses and cats are being kept at the shelter.
Johnson said the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States were contacted and are mobilizing assistance to deal with the situation and find solutions for caring for the animals.
Superior Court records show that an eviction order had been issued against Preitz because he owed $22,250 in back rent at his Best of Buddies animal rescue operation near Rosamond.
Animal Control officers said he was due to be evicted Wednesday and called them for help.
On Monday afternoon, the barking of 165 dogs filled the vaulted chamber of the makeshift kennel building as volunteers from the Bakersfield SPCA pulled dogs out of small black wire cages lined up in long tight rows and took them outside for walks.
Visitors were greeted with a frenzy of jumping, barking and yapping canines. But other dogs huddled in the backs of their cages, their heads down and ears drooping.
Towers of pizza boxes and chocolates piled on picnic tables near tubs of iced sodas stood testament to late-night marathons of animal care.
The shelter isn't an ideal situation for the dogs, Brewster said, but it's much better than the conditions the dogs were found in Friday.
Prietz joins other high-profile animal owners who operated rescue operations that ran afoul of state law or county ordinances in recent years, giving the rural areas of Kern County a reputation as a haven for shady animal organizations.
Kern has stepped up enforcement of animal abuse and successfully prosecuted individuals, including Cynthia Gudger, who was discovered living in filth with her pets in a warehouse in Tehachapi, and Cindy Bemis, who ran a troubled animal shelter in the desert near Mojave for years.
Prietz has been in trouble with the county since early 2006 because he did not have proper approval to have a kennel on the property and was not caring for the animals properly, county records show.
Preitz chose, in 2006, to get rid of the 100 dogs he had on the property at the time.
But a year later he re-established his kennel operation and started adding more animals. County officials allowed him to keep the shelter open while he worked to get a permit to operate on the land.
In fall 2010, after inspections revealed continued land use violations and inadequate shelters for the animals, Preitz was denied a permit by the Kern County Planning Commission.
Since then, county code compliance officers have been working with the property owner to resolve the situation and clear up the continued land use violations on the site.