The first time employees at the Humane Society of Central Missouri heard of Elouise Sipe was when they received a call Wednesday from a woman who had bought a puppy from her. The caller said her puppy died shortly after she made the purchase.
When a Humane Society investigator went to Sipe’s rural residence later that day, they found dozens of dogs with no water, not enough food and minimal shelter.
“Just by looking at them, you can see the conditions they were in,” said Lindsee Billings, operations manager for the Humane Society of Central Missouri.
The Humane Society notified the state Department of Agriculture, and representatives of the two agencies planned to return to Sipe’s house the next morning.
They never talked to Sipe again. She died Thursday afternoon after suffering burns on nearly her entire body in a fire, which investigators have ruled accidental.
The fire began in a chimney flue and caused more than $100,000 in damage to Sipe’s house northeast of Columbia at 5660 Liddell Lane. Firefighters found Sipe, 66, on the front porch as they went into the house to search for her.
Edward Hawn, a paraplegic who rented part of the basement and made the emergency call about 2 a.m. Thursday, was outside when firefighters arrived. His injuries were limited to smoke inhalation, fire officials said.
“I think he crawled up to the first floor and realized it was too dangerous,” said Lt. Carl Giacchi of the Boone County Fire District. “He dialed 911 from downstairs.”
Hawn told firefighters that he saw sparks coming out of the chimney and heard a roaring sound. Assistant Chief Ken Hines of the fire district said that such observations are consistent with flue fires.
Once the blaze was contained, Animal Control officials were called to the scene about 4 a.m. to tend to the dogs, mostly small breeds, that were housed in unkempt chicken-wire cages 20 to 30 feet from the house.
The Humane Society was alerted about an hour later when Animal Control asked for help moving the 57 dogs — mostly Shih Tzus, Yorkshire terriers and Maltese — to a safe location.
Animal Control officer Molly Aust said the dogs were “really thin and dehydrated.” She said some of them had leg problems because of wire floors that didn’t provide solid footing.
With the help of volunteers from the county fire district, all 57 dogs were bathed, shaved and documented. They are being housed at the Humane Society but are in the custody of Animal Control.
Matt Rold of the state Department of Agriculture said several of the dogs had license tags or microchip implants. He said his department will investigate how Sipe was able to acquire so many dogs.
According to state standards, having more than three female dogs, with the intent to breed and sell, qualifies as a kennel and requires a license. Aust called Sipe’s operation a “puppy mill.”
Although the Humane Society didn’t have previous contact with Sipe, Rold said the an anonymous complaint was filed with the agriculture department about six months ago. The complaint raised the possibility that Sipe was selling dogs without a license, Rold said.
“We’re stringent about looking through broker’s lists ... but we’re not sure where she got them from, “ Rold said. “It does seem as if she was selling them out the door.”