SKY VALLEY – Animal advocate Kitty Pallesen watched anxiously from Dillon Road as Riverside County Animal Control trucks raided the Dog Death Camp and rescued a pack of abused Queensland Heeler dogs on Thursday morning July 25, 2013.
Four Animal Control trucks, six SUVs and one white van stormed the remote desert property in Fan Canyon around 10 a.m., immediately following the arrest of Mary Bernadette Schwenn, 64, by a Riverside County Sheriff Deputy. Schwenn was arrested inside the Indio law library and charged with 10 counts of felony animal cruelty and 20 other misdemeanor charges relating to the improper care of animals. She is being held at the Larson Justice Center jail in Indio. Her bail is $50,000.
Pallesen, 63, is a Writer for the Desert Star Weekly newspaper and the Founder of Kitty’s Wildlife Rescue in Sky Valley first became alerted to the Dog Death Camp on April 14, 2013 when a local resident called her to report that the dogs in might need help.
“(On Thursday, July 25) at 9:30 a.m., I received a call that Animal Control was on their way to confiscate the dogs from the Schwenn dog camp. I arrived at the corner of Dillon and 1000 Palms Canyon Roads at 10 a.m., and observed four Animal Control trucks headed up the canyon to the camp,” said Pallesen in an exclusive interview with the Desert Star Weekly.
“Another white van was waiting on standby at that intersection. There were already other vehicles up at the camp, and I later counted six different white SUVs leaving the area,” Pallesen added through tears of joy.
“I observed the rescue operation for more than two hours. It is my understanding that (at least) 10 dogs were rescued from the camp. I believe there are at least three more dogs up there hiding, but I was reassured that efforts were not going to stop until all of the dogs were found and brought to safety.
“The hardest thing for me these past few weeks, since Schwenn’s first arrest (on July 1), was not being able to be at the camp to keep an eye on the dogs. I do not know how many have survived or died during that time period.
“I am relived that Animal Control finally took steps to get them to safety – relieved and grateful that this very important step in a long, hard-fought journey has been taken. I want to thank every single person that has been working tirelessly for these dogs, so many to thank,” Pallesen said.
“This horrifying situation, which has been on the County’s radar for many years, was allowed to go on because of a failure of government. It took a local hero, and a very small group of people who hadn’t previously known each other, to come together as a team to get something done,” said Karen Brooks of Studio City, who has been helping Pallesen since June to rescue the dogs.
Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit took a lot of criticism since June for not acting more quickly on the Dog Death Camp issue. It took pressure by Pallesen’s attorney Shelley Rizzotti of Burbank and the swift response from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office who filed the new new animal cruelty charges against Schwenn on July 24, which led to her arrest and the rescue of those dogs the dogs the following day.
Benoit’s office sent the following email statement to concerned constituents immediately after Schwenn’s arrest: “I am writing to inform you of a tremendous development in the case of Mary Bernadette Schwenn and her Sky Valley property,” said Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit.
“This morning (July 25, 2013) Ms. Schwenn was arrested on new felony animal cruelty charges. As of noon, Riverside County Department of Animal Services officers have impounded 10 dogs there. The arrest follows daily visits by Animal Services to the property and extensive efforts by numerous county departments.
“Also, Riverside County Code Enforcement was out there today issuing notices of violation for excess outside storage, rubbish and junk vehicles.
“My priority all along has been to protect these animals and prevent Ms. Schwenn from getting more. Today’s arrest and resulting seizure of her dogs is a monumental step towards this goal. However, we know that this case is ongoing until the final judicial outcome.
“Thanks to all of you who became involved and helped push this issue forward. Your genuine concern for all animals is to be commended, and I hope we will see closure soon. I will continue to send you updates,” Benoit concluded in his email.
Schwenn’s arraignment is scheduled for Monday, July 29 at 8 a.m. at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. If convicted, she could be sentenced to probation or up to nine years in prison. Pallesen, Rizzotti and the other animal advocates working on this case hope to convince the courts to issue a condition that bans Schwenn from ever owning animals again. Schwenn has a history of animal hoarding and other citations have been filed against her dating back to 1996.
Kitty’s Wildlife Rescue is a desert oasis located on five acres of remote desert land in the unincorporated area of Riverside County off Dillon Road. Pallesen is well-known for rescuing and fostering injured wild and domestic animals throughout the region.
To learn more about this story or to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 760-671-6604.