A human skull and jawbone were found on the property of a missing Kentucky woman who authorities said Monday may have been eaten by some of the dozens of hybrid wolf-dogs she kept in her yard.
Ohio County sheriff's deputies found the bones and as many as 50 dogs Saturday when they visited the home of Patricia Ritz, who was believed to be 67 and lived near Fordsville in western Kentucky. Neighbors had reported that they hadn't seen her for several days.
The county coroner was working to identify the remains and a cause of death, but deputies told NBC station WFIE of nearby Evansville, Ind., that foul play wasn't suspected. Investigators said they believe that Ritz became sick and died and that the dogs — many of which appeared not to have had food or water for several days — consumed her body to survive.
"I think it was just one lady that really wanted to save them all," Tracey Ward, a county animal control official, told the station. "When you don't spay and neuter, they're going to breed. It's not going to be just one or two puppies — it's going to be seven, nine, 12."
Records show that Ritz had a history of animal cruelty charges and convictions extending back at least a quarter-century.
Her first known offense came in 1986, when she was sentenced to a year's probation in an investigation involving at least 50 dogs in Posey County, Ind. She was convicted of five counts the next year in Evansville and was ordered never to transport dogs into Indiana again.
Other convictions came in 1997 in Greenville, Ky., (120 dogs) and in 2002 (38 dogs).
The animal rescue group Adopt-a-Husky told WFIE that 159 of 184 dogs found on Ritz's property were euthanized in 1999 — she was allowed to keep the 25 others if she spayed or neutered them. It said 34 more dogs were euthanized in 2003 because of poor temperament and health problems.
Ohio County animal control officials were working Monday to rescue the dogs that were found Saturday. Many are puppies, officials told WFIE, and others were described as "extremely pregnant."
Rescue workers said the only saving grace of the situation was that the mistreatment of animals at the property was over.
"After the sadness, there was relief," Mary Beth Kolb of Adopt-a-Husky told WFIE. "There absolutely was relief that this will never happen again."
Ward said the scene was "overwhelming.
"I've been fighting tears a lot today," she said. "I cannot understand why someone would live like this and put animals through this."