A 54-year-old man was charged this week with 17 counts of animal cruelty after being arrested last month, when police found his West Seattle home filled with more than 200 animals, many in cages without food or water, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said Friday.
Matthew Hazelbrook posted $7,500 bond Oct. 16, and is expected to be arraigned Nov. 25 at the King County Courthouse. A King County judge has ordered he not possess, own, transport or live with any animals, nor is he allowed to leave the state.
Police said they started looking into Hazelbrook’s alleged abuse of animals after a community member in August voiced concerns of “dead animal remains inside of cages” on his property in the 5000 block of 26th Avenue Southwest.
When police arrived with a search warrant in mid-October, they found about 25 animals in small cages in the first room of the house, according to a Seattle police report. Police said Hazelbrook later told them he was planning to take the animals to the East Coast soon.
According to the charges, he “poses a risk for acquiring and neglecting more animals as he runs a transport business across state lines.” No further information about the business or where the animals are sent was immediately available.
As officers walked through the house, they found caged animals in every room and the floors covered with hay and animal feces, police said. In another house on the same property, officers found animals that appeared to have died from lack of food, water and medical attention, police said.
In total, they found 222 live animals on the two properties, including 128 guinea pigs, 77 rabbits, seven chickens, three fowl, three dogs, two chinchillas and two mice, police said. Of those, 197 animals didn’t have access to food and 115 didn’t have access to water.
“In addition to the various animals that were located as deceased on scene, at least seven animals have died since being seized due to the defendant’s neglect,” charging documents said.
The animals were initially taken to the Seattle Animal Shelter, where workers weighed and assessed them. Three — a guinea pig and two rabbits — were considered in critical condition and taken to the Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine in Bothell for further treatment, police said.
In early November, Seattle Animal Shelter veterinarians submitted a report on the conditions of 17 of the animals, many of which were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, parasites, various infections and respiratory and gastrointestinal issues. Further investigation could lead to additional reports on the rest of the animals, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said Friday.
“This is the worst case of animal neglect and cruelty I’ve seen in more than 20 years of doing this work, and it’s quite possibly the worst case our shelter has ever handled,” Seattle Animal Shelter Director Ann Graves said in a statement last month.
Graves noted that the number of “severe” animal cruelty cases the shelter has seen this year has more than doubled compared to previous years. Over the past five years, the shelter has seen an average of 12 cases per year. As of late-October, the shelter has seen at least 27 cases.
“The number of cases is not only alarming,” Graves said in the statement. “It’s the severe nature of the cases that also causes concern.”
Anyone who suspects an animal is being harmed can contact the Seattle Animal Shelter at 206-386-7387 or the King County Regional Animal Shelter at 206-296-7387.