ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County’s former animal control shelter is back in business, at least temporarily, the Board of Commissioners learned Thursday.

That’s because they needed the space to house 77 animals removed from a house in Hagar Township this week – 11 cats and 66 dogs, according to Animal Control Director Tiffany Peterson.

“The floors were mushy” from urine and feces, and the ammonia smell was overwhelming, said Peterson. “The house is uninhabitable.”

The old animal control buildings on Huckleberry Road, in Berrien Center, were vacated in 2016 when the new $4 million facilities off of Napier Avenue in Benton Township were opened, but the county held on to the property.

The animals themselves are in pretty good shape, Peterson said, and they’d like to make as many available for adoption as possible.

The owner of the house, who Peterson declined to name, has been a problem for the county’s animal control operation for several years, but no action was taken, she said. She also declined to provide the address of the house.

Peterson has referred the matter to the county prosecutor’s office for possible civil and criminal charges. The animals can be kept through a civil forfeiture, she explained.

Peterson suggested that the owner, who Peterson said is staying with a friend, might be dealing with mental health issues.

The woman did not want to let the animal control officers in, and a search warrant was obtained.

County Administrator Bill Wolf said that they appreciated the assistance provided by Cass County officers.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Ezra Scott, Peterson said the county would be able to recoup its costs for boarding and other expenses if the case goes forward.

Peterson, who was hired in 2017 and had worked in Muskegon County, said this might not have been the worst situation she has encountered. She once was called to a house where the occupant had been given pet rats, and had allowed them to multiply to the point where 2,000 rodents were running throughout the structure, along with numerous other animals.

Commissioner Bill Chickering expressed gratitude that someone – referring to Wolf – had the foresight to keep the old shelter building.

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