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Fire in home of 'pack rat' kills 25 dogs

October 7, 2009 12:24:11 AM PDT
Riverside officials say a fire in a house packed to the ceiling with junk has killed 25 dogs.The fire broke out at the home in the 1800 block of Missouri Street around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when the homeowner was away.

Firefighters were able to knock it down quickly, but 14 dogs were found dead in a small side room. On Wednesday morning, after the fire flared up again, officials found another 11 dogs in the back of the house.

"She's distraught," said Melissa Breden, the homeowner's daughter. "I'm glad she wasn't here and she wasn't in the house. So I'm very thankful for that."

Breden says her mother became depressed when her grandmother died, and the dogs helped fill that void.

"The dogs were her life really," said Breden. "She had spent all of her time showing them and, I mean, she was flying around showing them in different places. It was just really important to her."

Riverside County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh says the 25 Lhasa Apso dogs were in cages and probably died from smoke inhalation. He says they were matted and their nails were not clipped.

"Potentially a neglect situation here, but, you know, we're scratching our heads on what was going on here," said Welsh.

Officials say all the junk made it more difficult for firefighters to get to the dogs. Crews had trouble dousing the fire in the kitchen and back porch area because they were stuffed with clutter and there was no way to get inside.

It took about a half-hour to put out the flames, which caused about $120,000 in damage.

Neighbor Johnny Guzman described the owner as a very nice woman in her 60s.

"Maybe she was lonely, you know, that's all she had, the dogs," said Guzman. "She's a breeder, she would breed the dogs and, like, train them for the shows, the dog shows. I haven't seen the dogs for a while. They've been inside the house most the time. I haven't really seen them outside."

Family members say the dogs were not neglected and that the owner did everything she could to care for them.

"That's what she spent all of her time on because they were very meticulous dogs," said Breden.

One firefighter suffered an eye injury while battling the blaze.

According to officials, the cause of the fire appeared to be electrical. It started in the exhaust fan in a bathroom.

In the city of Riverside, there is no limit to the number of dogs you can have inside your home.

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