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Pet Store Owner Arrested for Animal Cruelty

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This bird was one of the lucky ones.
LILLINGTON — The owner of a Harnett County pet store was arrested Friday, accused ofnot feeding or bathing animals in her care. It got so bad, several ofthose pets died.

The whistle was blown on Audrey Collins Thursday. Officials closed down"Audrey's Agricultural Affairs." Friday, they spent time assessing thesituation 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 thethe Cumberland County jail, retained under $9,000 bond. Among thecharges, some 30 counts of cruelty to animals.

Several people have described appalling conditions at the Harnett Countystore and at Collins' home in Fayetteville.

"There's no way to describe the house unless you've seen it," says GayleJackson. "There's a good foot of bird feces and seed stacked up. Thereare dead birds thrown on the ground."

Jackson used to work with Collins at the pet store. She left a few weeksafter making a dreadful discovery at Collins' Fayetteville home. Jacksonsnapped pictures of dead birds, some expensive and exotic. There were 25in all at the home. The conditions at the store weren't much better.

"It was total filth," Jackson recalled. "Animals not being able to sitdown without sitting in their own feces. There was starvation anddehydration. The day before yesterday, I saw 26 dead finches."

Collins says conditions are fine. But WRAL found food and animal waste onthe floor and shelves. The bird cages were empty. Collins admits abouttwo dozen birds died between the store and the house. She blames that onformer workers.

When animal control officers raided Collins' home Friday, what they sawwas nothing short of disgusting. One by one, dead carcasses of animalssurfaced. A dead dog sat curled up under a kitchen chair. The smell wasunbearable.

Sergeant Jonny Smith of Cumberland County Animal Control says disgustingis 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 foodor water. They've been taken away for safe keeping. The home was alsofound to be unfit for humans. In jail or out, Collins has 15 days toclean it up. Her business is also being evicted from the building, andeverything must be out by the end of the month.

"It's been nothing but catastrophes," says Collins. "I don't need it. Idon'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 AnimalShelter at her request. But Collins is convinced her animals will go withher wherever she ends up. "They always go with me," she demands. "Welove animals."

Jackson is worried about the animals still left at the store. The countyhas no plans to impound the animals. Collins says she's going to open upanother store in the Fayetteville area as soon as possible. She alsohopes to open stores in New York and Florida.

Animal control officers say there's a reason this abuse went on for solong with nobody noticing. People who sell birds and fish don't have tomeet the same tough inspection standards of those who sell dogs and cats. They're checked on less frequently and are more loosely monitored.

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