Image: Officials from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Ed Betz  /  AP
Officers from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals unearth animal remains in the backyard of Sharon McDonough's Selden, N.Y. home, on Nov. 7. Authorities are trying to determine whether any of the 20 dead dogs found buried in a New York woman's backyard might have been pets stolen from neighbors.
updated 11/12/2009 6:22:58 PM ET 2009-11-12T23:22:58

A mother of seven is accused of running a house of horrors for pets at her suburban home, forcing her children to help torture them and burying at least 20 dogs in her backyard. Neighbors now fear their pets that went missing over the years may be among the victims.

Sharon McDonough pleaded not guilty last week to six counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty on suspicion of abusing five dogs and a cat found crammed into cages, covered in feces and urine, their coats matted with filth. A judge has taken away custody of the 43-year-old woman's six young daughters.

McDonough's neighbors began fearing their missing pets met a worse fate than the abused animals after her son led officials to a backyard filled with the shallow graves of 20 dogs.

Douglas McDonough, 21, who turned his mother in to authorities on Nov. 5, called the home "a concentration camp for the animals" in comments to reporters after the arrest.

"She would have the oldest kids hold down the dog while we duct-taped his mouth and she would hit him," he said, adding that he and his sisters were all forced to take part in the abuse.

On Tuesday, a judge removed the six girls — ages 18 months to 13 years — from the custody of McDonough, who is widowed. Her court-appointed attorney, James D'Angelo, called the animal cruelty counts a "low-level offense."

"She's not charged with killing animals and is entitled to a presumption of innocence," he said. No one answered the door at McDonough's home this week.

Dozens of people have called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals since the case broke, fearing their missing pets had been victimized, Suffolk County SPCA Chief Roy Gross said.

"My daughter is still crying every day over her lost Chihuahua," said neighbor Sharyn Padula of the family's dog Bally, who disappeared just over a year ago. Two cats, Annabelle and Sylvester, also went missing. "I really hope they don't find my pets there."

McDonough's two-story red brick house sits on a middle-class block of closely placed, well-kept homes in a New York City suburb buffered by manicured lawns and festooned with holiday decorations — except for McDonough's, an unkempt structure with peeling paint, surrounded by fallen, matted leaves.

Since the dog carcasses were found, vandals have spray-painted "killer" on the garage and "guilty" on McDonough's mailbox. Rotten eggs were splattered on the house and on a vehicle parked outside.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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