BETHLEHEM, NC (WBTV) - More than a week after a man was arrested for allegedly abusing and abandoning animals in Alexander County, WBTV obtained exclusive access into the building where the alleged incidents happened.
Matthew Leeth is accused of dozens of charges involving abuse and abandonment after several dogs and nine birds were discovered dead, and five dogs were found starving in cages without food or water.
Leeth ran a dog training school, but neighbors said they didn't see anyone at the building for some time before authorities moved in on April 3. Power had been cut to the building March 16.
By the time the animals were found, authorities believe they had been without food and water for up to two weeks.
Wednesday morning, WBTV was allowed into the building. Except for the removal of the living and deceased animals, nothing had been touched.
The inside area was littered with debris and feces. Metal cage-like crates that held the animals, living and dead, were dirty. No food or water were in the bowls. In one case, a crate was located just feet away from a bag of food. The stench of feces and death permeated the building. The reporter on the scene says it was almost choking.
On April 3, investigators rescued two more dogs from a metal trailer behind the school where makeshift cages were set up inside it. No food or water was in the bowls there either, and with temperatures in the 80s Sheriff Chris Bowman says the dogs found there were literally cooking in the heat.
"It had to be unbearable," he said.
There were a few four-inch holes drilled in the side of the trailer for ventilation, but not enough according to officials. On one side it appeared the dogs had tried to chew their way out through those holes, unsuccessfully.
Bowman said it was a tough scene to take.
"Probably the worst case of animal abuse I've seen," the sheriff said.
The surviving dogs are now at the county animal shelter and are improving, but officials say it will be some time before they recover enough to be up for adoption. To help the shelter take care of those dogs, a local doctor's office is collecting money and supplies for the shelter.
Bethlehem Family Medicine is located next door to the training school where it all happened. Folks there said they had no idea what was going on, but want to do their part to help.
The suspect in the case, Matthew Leeth, remains behind bars.