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150 dogs rescued after being found living with homeless family in Arizona desert

The dogs were "well fed" and "well taken care of," despite the family's limited resources, a representative from the local shelter said.

A homeless family was found living in the Arizona desert with about 150 animals, Sgt. Calbert Gillett of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to TODAY on Friday night in a press release.

On Aug. 10, deputies received a call from the State Land Trust about a family living on the state-owned land near Wittman, Arizona, who were being evicted after living there for about a year. Upon arrival they discovered the large number of animals living in kennels and tents around the area.

Part of the encampment where the dogs were found.
Part of the encampment where the dogs were found.@skysanctuaryrescue / Instagram

“Detectives were surprised to discover that none of the animals appeared malnourished, and no sick animals were found at that time,” Gillet said in statement. “The animals had shade and shelter.”

The family agreed to voluntarily surrender the animals to the MCSO MASH unit where they would receive veterinary evaluation, care and eventually be available for adoption by the public, Gillett added. 

Prior to the authorities getting there, the family had contacted the Sky Sanctuary Rescue for help taking in their dogs and cats.

Dogs bark as Sky Sanctuary Rescue workers walk through the encampment.
Dogs bark as Sky Sanctuary Rescue workers walk through the encampment.@skysanctuaryrescue / Instagram

Elli Smith, the founder of the Sky Sanctuary Rescue in Phoenix, told TODAY over the phone that the family contacted them on their social media asking for help.

Smith went to the site with the intention of getting 10 animals, but upon arrival saw that there were more than the 50-60 animals they had told her they had.

“I will say the dogs were all very well fed and, within the (family’s) limited resources, very well taken care of,” she said, noting that there were a lot of older dogs, some with minor medical issues and three moms with newborn puppies. “I ended up leaving the first night with 22 dogs.”

She returned the following day, when the deputies and MCSO team would be relocating the family and animals and ended up taking 56 medically fragile animals and one cat. Smith shared that the family ended up keeping five dogs and they were able to relocate to a new property.

Additionally, Gillet noted that the shelter "was not working in any official capacity with the MASH unit or MCSO." MCSO, on their end, took in 93 dogs and nine cats.

Smith hopes people do not vilify the family, expressing that she noticed how much the family “care(d) about those dogs.” “It may not be the same way that we would care for dogs, but they cared about those dogs,” she said. “The dogs were mostly well taken care of.”

The animals are now receiving medical attention, she said, with hopes of people fostering and adopting them.

For more information about how to donate to Sky Sanctuary Rescue, click here.