LILLINGTON — The owner of a Harnett County pet store was arrested Friday, accused of not feeding or bathing animals in her care. It got so bad, several of those pets died.
The whistle was blown on Audrey Collins Thursday. Officials closed down "Audrey's Agricultural Affairs." Friday, they spent time assessing the situation at the store, and the condition of the pets still left inside. In the meantime, the store's owner was placed under arrest. She's in the the Cumberland County jail, retained under $9,000 bond. Among the charges, some 30 counts of cruelty to animals.
Several people have described appalling conditions at the Harnett County store and at Collins' home in Fayetteville.
"There's no way to describe the house unless you've seen it," says Gayle Jackson. "There's a good foot of bird feces and seed stacked up. There are dead birds thrown on the ground."
Jackson used to work with Collins at the pet store. She left a few weeks after making a dreadful discovery at Collins' Fayetteville home. Jackson snapped pictures of dead birds, some expensive and exotic. There were 25 in all at the home. The conditions at the store weren't much better.
"It was total filth," Jackson recalled. "Animals not being able to sit down without sitting in their own feces. There was starvation and dehydration. The day before yesterday, I saw 26 dead finches."
Collins says conditions are fine. But WRAL found food and animal waste on the floor and shelves. The bird cages were empty. Collins admits about two dozen birds died between the store and the house. She blames that on former workers.
When animal control officers raided Collins' home Friday, what they saw was nothing short of disgusting. One by one, dead carcasses of animals surfaced. A dead dog sat curled up under a kitchen chair. The smell was unbearable.
Sergeant Jonny Smith of Cumberland County Animal Control says disgusting is the mildest way to describe Collins' home. After looking around, Sheriff's deputies declared the area a crime scene.
A lucky bird and dog were found alive at the house, despite having no food or water. They've been taken away for safe keeping. The home was also found to be unfit for humans. In jail or out, Collins has 15 days to clean it up. Her business is also being evicted from the building, and everything must be out by the end of the month.
"It's been nothing but catastrophes," says Collins. "I don't need it. I don't want it. I'm glad to be away from it. I really am."
Right now, 13 of Collins' dogs are staying at the Harnett County Animal Shelter at her request. But Collins is convinced her animals will go with her wherever she ends up. "They always go with me," she demands. "We love animals."
Jackson is worried about the animals still left at the store. The county has no plans to impound the animals. Collins says she's going to open up another store in the Fayetteville area as soon as possible. She also hopes to open stores in New York and Florida.
Animal control officers say there's a reason this abuse went on for so long with nobody noticing. People who sell birds and fish don't have to meet the same tough inspection standards of those who sell dogs and cats. They're checked on less frequently and are more loosely monitored.