A Selden woman whose backyard contained the buried carcasses of nearly two dozen dogs pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge Sunday, as her son told reporters she forced her children to torture the pets.
Sharon McDonough, 43, of Awixa Place, was released from police custody Sunday morning after her hearing.
In addition to the 20 animal bodies dug up from her yard, five dogs found standing in feces in small cages with no food or water were removed from her house, SPCA officials said.
The rescued dogs - identified in court records as a shepherd mix, a beagle mix, an Italian greyhound, a cocker mix and a pug - along with a cat are being held by Second Chance Wildlife Rescue in Farmingville where they are up for adoption. SPCA chief Roy Gross said the greyhound has already found a home.
"From our understanding, she physically tortured and abused these animals," Gross said.
The animals are recovering but other than the greyhound they still show obvious signs of mistreatment. SPCA officials fed, cleaned and groomed the animals, which had matted fur and appeared emaciated.
Gross said McDonough appeared to have been torturing and neglecting her animals over several years. The dead animals were probably purchased by her, but the SPCA is still investigating if any were stolen pets. If any of the dead animals belonged to someone else, McDonough could face felony charges of larceny.
Sharyn Padula, who lives down the street from the McDonough family, said her own Chihuahua went missing last October. She has also lost two cats. Padula and two other residents of Awixa Place said another neighbor had also lost a cat.
A Suffolk detective called Padula on Saturday and asked her to describe her dog "in detail," she said. A Suffolk police spokesman said detectives are investigating McDonough's actions but declined further comment.
Padula said she has had a longtime feud with McDonough.
When she learned about the dead animals in the yard, Padula said, "I wasn't surprised, and I'm not shocked."
But other neighbors said they were appalled and astonished by the carnage. "It's freaky, and it's disturbing," said Bob Giordano, who lives across the street.
Andrea Martinez, who lives next to McDonough, said she avoided her backyard this summer because of a dead animal smell but assumed it was a skunk.
McDonough lives in her home with her seven children, who range in age from 18 months to 21 years, neighbors have said. Her husband, Darren, died in a 2008 traffic accident, neighbors said. Her son, Doug, told News 12 Saturday night that his mother forced his sisters to torture animals.
Investigators began searching McDonough's property after a Thursday complaint to Rescue Ink, an animal rescue group. It was Doug McDonough who called in the complaint, according to Toniann McKee, 42, of Islip Terrace who said she is the aunt of Doug McDonough's girlfriend.
Sharon McDonough, wearing a black sweatshirt and track pants, said little during her brief appearance in District Court in Central Islip Sunday. Judge Stephen Behar released her on her own recognizance. She is due back in court Tuesday.
Behar said McDonough "has never been in trouble before."
A forensics test is expected to yield information about the dead animals, Gross said.