Lassen County Animal Abuse Rescue: Dogs Forced to Eat Dogs, No-one Charged

“The people abusing those animals were starving their dogs and making them eat other dead dogs,” says Donna Phillips with the Lassen County Animal Shelter. “They had a pit full of the animals they’d killed and even kept some stored in a freezer. It’s the most horrific animal abuse I’ve seen in forty years.”

The carcass pit (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

Julia and I visited the animals this week and learned of their incredible rescue. We also learned how hard it can be for law enforcement to prosecute cases of animal abuse.

From Vacation to Animal Abuse

NoteI have written this story as accurately as possible based on what I heard, saw, and recalled. You can read the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office’s press release here.

A week ago, my wife Julia and I were driving from Susanville, California, to Reno, Nevada. It was night. A seven-point mule deer jumped in front of our car. We hit the deer, ran off the road, crashed into a fence, and totaled our vehicle. Julia and I were not hurt, and our car and trailer were towed into Susanville by Susanville Towing.

Our totalled car being towed off the fence we crashed into

Brian Phillips owns Susanville Towing. Brian is a kind man in a hard part of the country. He’s seventy, with kind eyes and a big heart.

We contacted the insurance company, filed the claim, and started waiting for the claim to be processed. One morning, while we were waiting for the adjuster, Brian mentioned he was taking care of a group of horses, pigs, goats and a heifer that were seized from a group of people suspected of animal abuse. The animals were being held in a secure location.

Seized Animals

Julia and I visited the animals. We found mares, foals, a heifer and two stallions in individual pens. They were peacefully munching hay and drinking water. We also found pigs, goats and a sheep in a covered shelter. They all had plenty of bedding, feed and water and looked well cared for.

The horses in their pens
This little piggy snuck out of his pen into the feed storage area
A few of the rescued goats
A little red heifer

It was hard to imagine that, less than two weeks ago, these sweet animals were being starved, abused, and butchered in the desert an hour north of where we were standing. 

We walked back to the towing shop, and Brian told us we should talk with his wife, Donna, to learn more about the seized animals. Donna works at the Lassen County Animal Shelter. The next day, we rented a pickup with a hitch on it so we could tow our little red gypsy trailer back to North Carolina.


Julia and I drive our rental vehicle to a safe location where the dogs, cats and other small animals seized in the raid are staying. We pull into the dusty parking lot and park in front of a one-story cinderblock building. Dogs are barking inside the building, and I knock on the door. A woman in a pink button-down shirt and a big shiny belt buckle opens up. “Brian said you might be coming over,” she says and smiles. It’s Donna Philips. She looks kind and firm like she spends half her time delegating and half her time caring for horses.

Donna Lassen

We tell her we want to make a gift toward the rescued animals’ care and would like to meet some of them. Donna leads us down a long corridor with three gray doors leading off to the side. I ask Donna about the abused animals.

“The animals came from a ranch up in Adin, about an hour north of here,” she says. “Squatters were living on it. A man serving an eviction notice to the squatters on the property got bit by a dog. He reported it to the sheriff’s department, so they had to investigate. A sheriff’s deputy went to investigate the dog bite and found animals that showed signs of abuse, along with dead animals, bones and rotting carcasses. They belonged to four squatters squatting on the property.”

 The deputy’s name was Michael Loflin with the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office. The location was 667-290 Highway 299 in Adin, California. The date was October 2. 

Rescuing Abused Animals

Donna opens one of the gray doors and leads us down a long corridor that smells like wet concrete. Kennels run down the side of the aisle. Dogs bark frantically and rush the chain link fence separating them from us. “These are some of the dogs that were seized,” she says. She points at a medium-sized black and white dog jumping up to greet us. “That’s a border collie,” she says. Another white dog writhes against the cage, begging for attention. “That’s a Pyrenees,” she says. The dog has eyes kind as a seal’s and looks desperate for affection. I want to adopt it immediately.

A full-bred blue merle Australian shepherd
Waiting quietly
Kennel mates

The dogs are barking for attention. They wag their tails, poke their noses through the wire mesh and make eye contact, willing to make a connection.

The dog barking the loudest is a big white dog in a kennel at the end of the corridor. We get close to his pen, and he snarls, bares his teeth, and hurls against the cage, trying to bite us through the wire. “That’s the dog that started it all,” she said. “That’s the dog that bit the man trying to evict the squatters abusing the animals.”

Based on what he saw, deputy Loflin prepared a search warrant. On October 10, the sheriff’s department, the county animal control officer and other agencies moved in to seize the animals. What they found shocked even Donna.

Dogs Drinking Their Pee

“It’s the most disgusting animal abuse I’ve ever seen or heard of,” Donna says. “The people abusing these animals had dogs stored in wire crates in the sun. They had cages piled on cages. The dogs didn’t have roofs on their cages or shelter from the heat, cold, snow, or rain. They didn’t have water or dog food.”

“The people were forcing the dogs to eat dead dogs. Imagine the horror of what it must be like for a dog in a cage to watch the dog next to it starve. And then someone kills the starving dog and feeds it to the dog watching it. That’s what these people were doing. And we don’t know why. It’s like the people who were keeping them were starving them down so they could eat them. It made no sense at all. 

Waiting for help (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

“Those people kept the dogs in cages without water. When the people who rescued them offered the dogs water, some drank, but others didn’t. They waited until they peed and then drank their urine. It took them 2 or 3 days to start drinking water.”

Dogs waiting to be rescued (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

“The people with the dogs also had a bunch of goats, pigs, and starving horses. They’d shoot one of the horses, cut it up and feed it to the dogs. All but one of the horses was rescued. It had gotten tangled in barbed wire and was in such poor shape it had to be put down.”

The injured, starved horse that had to be put down
(Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

“We still don’t know where all the dogs and horses or any of the other animals came from. We suspect some of them may be stolen, but we don’t know.”

Ducks Eating Deer

Donna shows us two large wire pens. One pen contains chickens. One is full of quacking ducks. “These are the birds we rescued,” she says. “They were living crammed all together in a small cage. All they had to eat was a poached deer someone had thrown into their cage. That’s all they knew how to eat, meat. We have to teach them how to eat grain before we find them homes.”

A dead, poached deer thrown into a bathtub (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

Donna shows us a large brown tortoise that’s living in a wood box. The tortoise looks like it’s made of rubber. “This desert tortoise is a rescue, too,” she says. She leads us to another room piled high with crates. Each one contains a rabbit. “They had all these, too,” she says. “Then there’s all the rescued horses, goats, pigs and sheep.”

Pets Frozen Alive?

While the Sherrif’s department was conducting the raid, Donna says investigators found a freezer full of frozen dead animals. “They opened a freezer and found a strawberry pie on top of all these frozen dogs and cats. They still had their fur on them. It’s not clear if the animals were dead when they were put into the freezer or frozen to death. Who would do this to an animal?”

She shows me a photo of the freezer with a strawberry creme pie in it. The pie is lying on a twisted pile of frozen animals that look like they could have been pets. There’s brown fur and black fur, paws and tails, and what looks like a cocker spaniel, all twisted together in agonizing last moments. The label on the frozen strawberry pie says, “Just thaw and enjoy.”

A freezer full of frozen animals and a strawberry pie (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)

“Those animals we rescued are just a fraction of the ones that were abused and killed by those people,” Donna says.

The Carcass Pit

When authorities raided the property, they found a 20 by 30 by 4-foot-deep pit filled with dead animals, bones and carcasses in varying states of decomposition. “The pit was filled with the remains of the animals those people killed or starved to death. There were dogs, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, chickens, and other animals. And the dead animals weren’t just found in the pit. There were bones and bodies scattered all over the property.”

The 20 by 30 by 4-foot-deep pit filled with dead animals (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)
Closeup of the carcass pit (Lassen County Sheriff’s Office photo)
Large animal carcasses that appear to be horses

“What’s scary is what else is at the bottom of this pit. What haven’t we uncovered? If these people have done this to animals, what else have they done?”

According to the sheriff office’s press release, 24 dogs, 22 goats, 15 horses, 8 pigs, 26 rabbits, 10 ducks, 4 chickens, 1 cow, 1 goose, 1 sheep, 1 cat, and 1 turtle were seized.

“We rescued over 100 animals in this case, but I think thousands of animals died,” Donna says. “Thousands. Not hundreds. Thousands. It’s the worse case of animal abuse I’ve seen in all my years of doing this. I’ve been doing it since 1983.”

Individuals Suspected of Animal Cruelty Taken Into Custody

According to the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office, four individuals were taken into custody for questioning after the property was raided. They are:

  • Jessica Wick, 39
  • Christian Cledan Corwin 36
  • James Joint, 18
  • Brooke Dibrell, 18

All are from Adin, California. The four individuals were released after questioning.

Donna says, “They’re already out and trying to set up another fake animal rescue.”

Preparing a Case

“The sheriff’s department and everyone in the community’s heart are breaking over this,” Donna says. “The sheriff’s department is currently conducting an investigation. They are working as hard as they can to put together a cut-and-dried case.”

I ask Donna what typically happens to people who abuse animals around here.

“Nothing,” she says and slaps the back of her hand. “They’ll get a slap on the wrist, and nothing happens.”

How can this be? How can animal abusers not be punished, even with so much brutal evidence on hand?

Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Animal Abusers in California

“The problem is the judicial system,” Donna says. “California is the worst state for the victims and the best for the criminals. The case against the animal abusers has to be airtight. That’s why it’s taking the sheriff’s department so long to put together its case. They’re making sure they dot their “t” s and cross their “i” s so the case doesn’t get thrown out of court.”

Donna sounds frustrated. “We’ve gone to court multiple times to keep animal abusers from ever owning animals again,” she says. “We’ve lost all those cases except one. California is a terrible state when it comes to that. It gives all the power to the abusers.”

I can only hope that Sherrif’s department’s case against the animals’ abusers will hold up in court so these people can never own or take care of animals again.

People Who Abuse Animals Abuse People

Donna says, “What’s really scary about animal abuse is that it doesn’t stop there. If a spouse or children are around an animal abuser, there’s likely child or spousal abuse. And the other way around. If there’s spousal or child abuse in a household, there’s a good chance, if there are animals around, that there’s animal abuse.”

“Look at serial killers like Jeffery Dahmer. He didn’t just start killing people. He started with animals a long time before he started murdering people. And the kind of things he did to animals was much less bad than the animal abuse we saw here in Lassen County.”

Donna says. “If a person abuses a child, that child should be taken from the abuser, and the abuser should never be allowed to have or be around a child again. People who abuse animals are the same. They should never be able to own animals again, not even a goldfish. I’m all about the animals. I don’t care if I hurt someone’s feelings.”

How to Spot Animal Abuse

Julia and I finish our tour of the animal shelter. I ask Donna what one thing she wants people to know about the horrific case of animal abuse she’s witnessed.

Donna says, “If there’s one thing I would tell people, it’s to keep an eye out for animal abuse in your community. It’s not just happening in Lassen County. It’s happening all over the country. Keep your eyes open. If you see something that looks wrong, say something. These animals can’t help themselves. 

Donna lists seven things people can keep an eye out for. She says none of these signs are proof that animal abuse is occurring. Still, she’s seen enough abuse to know they often point toward it.

Seven Signs Animal Abuse Might be Happening

Animals calling: If you go by a place and hear lots of dogs, horses and chickens calling, they might be hungry and calling for help. When they get weak, they can’t make noise anymore.

Lots of animals but little feed: If you see someone with lots of animals but little or no feed around, those animals might not be getting enough to eat.

Skinny animals: Sometimes, a skinny animal is old and under proper care. Other times, it’s malnourished. Example: If you see one horse that’s skinny in with other horses that are in good weight, that one horse might just be old or have a condition that is under medical control.

If you see a pasture full of skinny horses, they may be malnourished.

Foul smell: If you pass a property and smell a bad smell, it could be decomposing animals.

No feed delivery: If you know someone has lots of animals but never see food being delivered, the animals may not have enough to eat

Squatters: If someone is squatting on a piece of property and has animals, those animals might not be getting enough to eat or drink or lack suitable shelter.

Building or trailer without water or power: If you see a building with no water source or power and suspect the person living there has animals, those animals might not be getting enough to eat and drink.

If You’re Sending Your Dog or Horse Away for Training

Donna says that animals that are sent away for training can be abused or stolen by unreputable trainers. Before sending your dog or horse away for training, be sure to: 

Verify care: If you’re sending your dog or horse off to be trained by someone, verify they are reputable. Instead of just letting that person pick up your dog, visit their facility. Make sure it is clean and safe, and the people abide by proper training methods. 

Get a contract: Get a written contract establishing ownership and level of expected care before sending your animal away for training. 

-If you give up an animal at a shelter or rescue: make sure it goes to a reputable rescue or shelter. There are scam organizations that raise funds and accept rescue animals.

Do This if You Suspect Animal Abuse

Contact your local:

  • sheriff’s department
  • -animal shelter
  • vet

How You Can Help the Abused Animals Seized in Lassen County

Julia and I love animals. It saddens us that we killed a beautiful mule deer with our car. And yet, we would have never heard of this animal abuse case if we hadn’t been involved in that accident. That makes us feel like the deer we killed didn’t die in vain. That’s the way travel works. You look for one thing, get kicked off course, and discover something more important than what you’d initially set out looking for.

I wanted to do something to help the abused animals I met in Lassen County, so I wrote this article hoping to spread their story. Julia and I donated to the animal shelter and spent a day gathering feed and supplies for the animals. 

If you’re interested in helping, here’s what you can do.

If You Live in California

Contact your representatives. Urge them to tighten California’s animal protection laws so animal abusers can never own or take care of animals again.

If You Live Elsewhere

If the state you live in allows convicted animal abusers to own animals after they’ve been convicted of animal abuse, urge your representatives to change the laws so they can’t.

If You Have Information on This Case

If you have information that would help authorities prosecute this case, contact the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office:

Lassen County Sheriffs Department:

Read the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office press release here.

Keeping an Eye on the People Who Abused the Animals in Lassen County

Donna says, “We must keep an eye on the people who abused these animals. They have already done this in southern Oregon. I’m afraid they’re going to turn around and do the same thing again.”

As mentioned earlier, the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office says the names of the people associated with this case of animal abuse are:

  • Jessica Wick 
  • Christian Cledan Corwin
  • James Joint
  • Brooke Dibrell

“These people go by several aliases and have been known to change their names,” Donna says. She says the people who committed the atrocities are now squatting on another piece of land across the road from where the abused animals were rescued. 

Adopt One of the Rescued Animals

The Lassen County Animal Shelter is currently establishing the legal status of the rescued animals. Donna says, “Right now, we’re getting the animals healthy and trying to find their owners if any of them were stolen. The people abusing these animals had some really nice dogs, including border collies, Australian Shepards and Belgian shepherds, and Pyrenes, as well as some nice mixed-breed dogs. There are also mini-pigs, goats and horses. We can’t find new homes for them until we find out who they belong to or if they’re stolen.”

Some of the animals have already been requested by caring members of the local animal community. Donna wants to make sure the seized animals are never abused again.

“We want to send them as far away as possible, so the people who abused them don’t get a hold of them again. In cases like this, the people who abused the animals get their friends to adopt them. Then the friends give them back to the people who tortured, starved and killed them.”

Cross-country shipping may be possible to suitable homes. Donna says it will be a while before the animals are cleared for adoption. If you’re interested in adopting one of the rescued animals, contact Donna at the Lassen County Animal Shelter:

Contact: Donna Phillips

  • Lassen County Animal Shelter
  • 472-000 Johnstonville Road
  • Susanville, CA 96130
  • (530) 257 9200

Donate to the Lassen County Animal Shelter

The Lassen County Animal Shelter operates under the Lassen County Department of Public Works. It can receive much-needed donations of money and supplies.

Julia and I donated funds and supplies to the shelter. Here, Julia heads toward the Susannville Tractor Supply checkout with a load of horse feed, duck feed, and bales of compressed alfalfa. Who knew rabbits ate so much alfalfa. Thanks to Tractor Supply for giving us a 15% discount on our purchase

Make donations to:

Lassen County Animal Shelter Trust

Notethe word “Trust” needs to be on the donation so the funds go directly to the Lassen County Animal Shelter instead of the county’s general fund.

Send donations to:

  • Lassen County Animal Shelter
  • 472-000 Johnstonville Road
  • Susanville, CA 96130
  • (530) 257 9200

The shelter can also accept gifts of:

  • dog food
  • cat food
  • compressed alfalfa hay for the rabbits
  • horse pellets
  • duck feed
  • poultry feed for chickens, ducks, and geese
  • bleach

Please contact the shelter to arrange a delivery time before dropping off any gifts.

Please Share This Post

As you read these words, an abused dog is being held in a cage, nibbling on the remains of another dog or drinking its urine. Take action. Abused animals can’t free themselves. Do something to stop the suffering. 

Waiting to be adopted

Share this post with your friends, animal lovers, and anyone you know who is interested in stopping animal abuse. Hit the share button. Email a link to this post to your friends. 

Thanks from Julia, me, and all the abused animals you’re helping.

Let Me Give You a Heads-up When my Book “Two Mules to Triumph” Comes Out

On a more positive note, I’d be happy to give you a heads up when my new book “Two Mules to Triumph” comes out.

“Two Mules to Triumph” is about my 2,300-mile mule voyage from North Carolina to Idaho.


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Ellen B
Ellen B
10 months ago

Having lived in California most of my life, I do not understand why these people were not charged. They had enough evidence.

10 months ago
Reply to  Ellen B

Hi Ellen,
So good to hear from you.
I am also surprised and saddened that the perpetrators of this horrific crime weren’t immediately prosecuted. As you say, there was plenty of evidence for a conviction. I will be writing a follow-up piece to let you, and everyone concerned with this case, know what became of the abusers.
I hope all’s going well for you out California-way,


Cornelia Juilfs
Cornelia Juilfs
1 year ago

CA protecting the abuser and the criminals. Never been as infuriating as with animal abuse cases. I left CA last year because of its laws to protect the abuser of animals and humans and not the abused. Defunding the Police affects the most vulnerable the most: the abused and victims. I cannot think about what happened to these poor sweet souls in the hands of these monsters. AND to know the abusers can go free and repeat what they are doing…and the many out there who continue without any legal consequences.

Nancy Hair
Nancy Hair
1 year ago

Thank you so much for posting this ‘story’. I am going to contact Animal Legal Defense Fund to see if they are or will get involved in this disgusting case. Let’s hope some serious animal lovers take care of the perps so they never go near an animal again. They deserve no mercy.

1 year ago

One can not imagine the mind of such people. I met the innocent victims. They are wonderful animals, each one of them…kind eyes, wanting pats. Each deserves a far better life than anything they have ever seen before. I hope they will get to go far away from these people who did this to them. It’s a hard article to read but we must be aware and do all we can to help animals that get in trouble like this because they do not have voices and have been restrained from fighting back for themselves.Please be a person of courage and help animals out where ever and when ever you suspect they may be in trouble.Thanks Bernie for writing, researching and posting this disturbing article. It is a important way to help out!

1 year ago

The fact no one is held accountable is why this county is going to trash really quickly. I’m sad to say this isn’t the land we grew up in, these sick freaks should be treated the way they treated these poor animals… rest in peace to those who were harmed, and I pray they get adopted by loving families.

Christian Harberts
Christian Harberts
1 year ago

Anger is the emotion that wells up in me as I read about this animal abuse case. What conditions can make four individuals all participate in such heinous acts, apparently in several places? it’s like four mass murderers decided to band together in order to better organize their acts. I hope a legal case can finally be brought to bear against them, one with sharp legal teeth.


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