"They have all kinds of medical issues," said Theresa Cooper, an investigator with the SPCA.
Scheld regularly transported dogs to her property from a high-kill shelter in Robeson County, North Carolina's poorest - ostensibly for adoption - and was on her way back with nine dogs and four puppies when agents arrived at her house.
Scheld's sister turned over the four puppies, which were diagnosed with parvovirus - a highly contagious and often fatal disease. Three have been treated and released to shelters. One puppy and two other dogs with severe skin infections remain hospitalized at Columbus Central Veterinary Hospital in Burlington County.
The other dogs removed from the Robeson County Animal Shelter on Dec. 17 are still missing. Their exposure to the parvovirus carried by the puppies makes them a public health concern, Cooper said.
Agents also dug up the bodies of six dogs, which are undergoing necropsies.
Neither Scheld nor another individual, Leroy Thomas, in whose name many of the dogs are registered, agreed to relinquish the animals. Cruelty charges against Thomas are pending, Cooper said.
Officials had been investigating Scheld since July, when a tip from a customer who adopted a sick dog last summer led them to the property.
Cooper said she urged Scheld to get medical care for the dogs last summer and tried to get her to surrender them, but she refused. She did not get treatment for the dogs, Cooper said.
Instead, she kept traveling to North Carolina to get more dogs. Lori Baxter, the shelter manager there, said Scheld had been there two or three times to pick up dogs since Baxter was hired in October.
"She told us with the flurry of adoptions at Christmas, her place was empty," Baxter said.
With only one part-time staff member and hundreds of dogs to place each month, Baxter said, her shelter was unable to adequately evaluate Scheld's operation, relying on an Internet rescue network and the fact that Scheld produced health documents for previous dogs she had removed.
"I was shocked; she seemed very caring," Baxter said. "If we had ever suspected this, there's not a chance they would have left the shelter."
Cooper said the animals are highly adoptable but cannot be released until the owners relinquish them or the case is decided. Until then, they are being cared for by a number of nonprofit shelters, including the Cape May County Animal Shelter, the Humane Society of Atlantic City, and the Animal Orphanage in Camden County. Bills for housing and medical care already total thousands of dollars, Cooper said.
Donations for the dogs' care may be directed to those shelters or to the SPCA. Cooper said she would seek restitution for the care of the animals as part of the court case.
Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.