A woman who hoarded more than two dozen dogs and was accused with her son of abandoning them pleaded guilty Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court.
Flordeliza Aguilo Escano, 59, of Rancho Santa Margarita had been charged with three misdemeanors: animal abandonment, mistreatment and neglect. She faced a maximum 18 months in jail and $3,000 in fines.
Escano pleaded guilty to all three counts and was sentenced to three years probation, restitution to Orange County Animal Control and—if she violates probation—180 days in jail. She was also ordered to undergo intensive mental health counseling for one year and is not allowed to own, live with or possess any animals.
Her son, James Francis Alambra, 26, of Rancho Santa Margarita, pleaded guilty to animal abandonment and was sentenced to three years probation, restitution and—if he violates probation—60 days in jail. A count of animal mistreatment was dismissed.
Alambra was ordered to undergo three months of mental health counseling and is also barred from contact with animals.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Malone described the dogs—26 of them—as having hair that was so matted it was causing them "pain and distress," and that many had ingrown toenails, weren't properly fed, and were smeared with feces.
"The mother is a hoarder and the son wanted to move in with her and that's why they wanted to get rid of the dogs," Malone said.
According to Malone, Escano had 33 dogs, but she was so embarrassed by the appearance of four of them that they weren't abandoned. Five dogs were pregnant, and all the litters—as well as the 33 dogs—were adopted, "so it's a happy ending."
Neither of the defendants were represented by an attorney. Escano has a background as a trained psychiatric nurse, Malone said.
The charges stemmed from a series of events in May that led Alambra to come forward to authorities after two crates filled with small dogs were left at a Laguna Hills park. The story made headlines at the time.
According to the district attorney, on the afternoon of May 20, Escano and her son drove a truck into the parking lot of San Remo Park, where they unloaded two crates, one containing 14 dogs and another containing 16 dogs. The defendants were accused of cramming the crates so tightly that the dogs were stacked atop one another without food or water.
They placed the crates next to trees near the road before abandoning them. Alambra's Toyota 4Runner wouldn’t start, so they left the scene after being picked up by a woman in another vehicle, who was unaware of the animal abandonment. The 4Runner was left behind.
Park visitors found the abandoned crates and contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The recovered dogs showed signs of neglect, including matted fur and ingrown toenails.
Alambra contacted authorities after the story made headlines. He told deputies he was trying to save the dogs by removing them from the home of his mother, who he said was a hoarder.
Although Malone said Tuesday that "all 33 animals were nursed back to health," at the time the dogs were abandoned, director of OC Animal Care Ryan Drabek said the dogs were in decent condition: “They are pretty good, considering. There were some with pretty severely matted hair and a couple with minor abrasions, but we have not had to do significant medical treatment.”