A Selden, N.Y., mother of seven who was initially accused of six misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty has had additional charges leveled at her, including child endangerment, animal cruelty and animal torture.
Sharon McDonough, 43, was arrested in November after her oldest child, Doug McDonough, 21, contacted the television show “Rescue Ink”, which investigates stories of animal abuse and neglect. Rescue Ink in turn contacted the Suffolk County SPCA. When officers arrived at the McDonough home to investigate they found five dogs and one cat in the house — alive but malnourished, covered in urine, feces and filth, and living in cramped cages.
In the backyard, however, investigators discovered a much more gruesome scene — on the children’s tips, officers dug up more than 20 animal carcasses. McDonough was charged with six misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, one count for each of the living animals found inside. The five dogs and cat — along with a bird and hamster — were removed and taken into protective custody. Several neighbors, however, came forward to say that their pets had gone missing recently and that they were concerned McDonough had killed the animals. If that was the case, they said, they wanted her charged in the deaths of their pets.
While it’s unclear if any of the animals have been positively identified as neighbors’ missing pets, it was confirmed that many of the animals were purchased or adopted through legitimate sources. The additional charges against McDonough come at a time when details of the case are coming to light. Since November, the backyard body count has risen from “more than 20” to 42 dogs, the New York Post reports. Cats were disposed of in the trash. Evidence suggests that many of the dogs died unnaturally and that some of the bodies have mouths that were duct-taped shut.
“Our investigation found evidence that [McDonough] wrapped duct tape around a cat’s nose and mouth and hung the animal from her child’s bunk bed, killing the cat,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, adding the mother’s 11-year-old daughter had witnessed the incident. In 2006, McDonough allegedly strangled a Maltese in front of her daughter, aged 10 at the time. That Maltese was later found among the bodies in the backyard.
The animals weren’t the only ones who were abused. “This is a case where a mother subjected her children to the most unimaginable and horrific living conditions that I have ever seen,” Spota said. “These kids were beaten, they were starved, they lived in absolutely horrendous conditions within their own household and this was done intentionally by the mother.”
McDonough’s adult son Doug said he moved out of the house in August 2009 and by November turned his mother in because he feared for the well-being of his six younger sisters, who ranged in age from 18 months to 13. The six girls are now in the care of relatives.
Doug McDonough said that his mother forced her children to actively participate in the torture and killing of the animals that were uncovered in the backyard. The house was, he said, a “concentration camp” for animals.
McDonough’s new charges include six misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child (one for each child) and four misdemeanor counts of torturing or injuring animals. The most serious charges are two counts of felony aggravated cruelty to animals, which carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison if convicted.
McDonough, who is being held on $100,000 bail, pleaded not guilty at her January 21 arraignment. Her court-appointed attorney, James Saladino, said McDonough “absolutely denies” that she forced her children to torture animals. In court at her arraignment, Saladino told the judge that he is considering an insanity defense for his client.