Water shut-off leads to discovery of possible animal neglect

Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 9:05am

Two dogs were rescued from a home on Madison's east side, thanks to the diligence and compassion of city employees working through several different agencies. However, the whereabouts of the home's elderly owner are still unknown.

The residence first became a cause for concern last May when Building Inspection issued a notice to the homeowner about a hole in the roof that had been loosely covered with a tarp. No one responded to that notice, and a subsequent order to repair the roof was ignored.

Building Inspection's efforts to contact the homeowner began to coincide with Madison Water Utility's own efforts to reach out beginning last summer. Since July, Madison Water Utility and our contractor Corix have tried repeatedly to contact the occupant to install the Project H2O water meter system upgrade. After failing to receive any response to letters, door knocks and phone calls, a final notice of water service disconnection was issued, and service was disconnected on April 16, 2013. Once water service was disconnected, Building Inspection was able to post a no-occupancy notice on the home and begin the process of gaining a warrant to access the building.

Water utility staff who visited the home on multiple occasions heard the barks of at least one dog inside. As the days passed after disconnection, Building Inspection and Madison Water Utility employees grew more and more concerned about the welfare of whoever might be living inside, as well as the animal. On the evening of Tuesday, April 23rd, we asked Madison Police to check on the home. According to a report from the responding officer, no lights were on and no one appeared to be home, but they did spot two dogs inside and red coils from a space heater that had been left on. That triggered safety concerns, and Madison police gained forced entry to the property.

Police reported that they found the inside of the home in "deplorable condition, with overpowering odor from urine and feces…(A) male pit bull was found appearing very thin, malnourished, and possibly almost blind. Small Maltese was very dirty and matted hair. No water in bowls and little food."

Public Health Madison Dane County alerted its Animal Services Officer to the case, and the two dogs were taken to the Dane County Humane Society.

"I am grateful to the caring and watchful eye of City employees both in Water Utility and Building Inspection," said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. "This situation also points out however, the importance of neighbors caring for each other. Fortunately there wasn't a fire or other tragedy at this home, but perhaps the neglect could have been flagged earlier by someone who lived in the neighborhood."

The safety of the home's owner is still a concern. Building Inspection did receive a phone call several months ago from a woman who may have been the home's owner, but no one has been able to contact her since. Neighbors believe she may be living with her son in Evansville, Wisconsin, but the Madison Police officer on the scene was unable to reach him by phone.


  • Amy Barrilleaux, Water Utility PIO

Water Utility