Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Shirley Aguiar(1) complaints to MSPCA about Shirl's Whispering Winds dogs kept in filthy conditions

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

Edward Aguiar(1) complaints to MSPCA about Shirl's Whispering Winds dogs kept in filthy conditions

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

Shirley Aguiar(2) complaints to MSPCA about Shirl's Whispering Winds dogs kept in filthy conditions

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

Edward Aguiar(2) complaints to MSPCA about Shirl's Whispering Winds dogs kept in filthy conditions

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

Shirley Aguiar(3) ACO responds to complaint of a sick dog

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

December 31, 2014  
Edward Aguiar(3) ACO responds to complaint of a sick dog

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

December 31, 2014  
Shirley Aguiar(4) 72 miniature dachshunds seized from subjecting the dogs to unnecessary suffering and failing to provide a sanitary environment

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

January 5, 2015  
Edward Aguiar(4) 72 miniature dachshunds seized from subjecting the dogs to unnecessary suffering and failing to provide a sanitary environment

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

January 5, 2015  
Shirley Aguiar(5)

surrendered 2 adult dogs and 6 pups

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

January 7, 2015  
Edward Aguiar(5)

surrendered 2 adult dogs and 6 pups

Westminster, MA

Worcester County

January 7, 2015  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
7 counts each of Felony Animal Cruelty child endangerment 74 miniature dachshunds & 6 pups

(1,2,3)No charges


Gardner District Court

After animal control seized 71 miniature dachshunds from the home of Ed and Shirley Aguiar on January 5th, 2015 , the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals began a law-enforcement investigation based on the extremely unsanitary conditions of the residence.

But the way the dogs have been treated for the past several years doesn't seem to line up with the reputation the Aguiar's used to have as breeders. MSPCA Public Relations Director Rob Halpin said, in his experience, financial problems or personal issues of owners can affect their animals' lives. "Often when people get into trouble, animals get into trouble," he said. "Pets don't get top priority."

According to an obituary, Shirley Aguiar's mother died in 2013, and, according to a customer of the couple, Ed Aguiar lost his job not long before that. But without hearing from the Aguiar's directly, it's impossible to say whether either of these events might have led to mistreatment of their dogs.

The Aguiar's denied allegations of animal cruelty.

"My parents are longtime breeders of Chihuahuas, and they instilled in me the love and values I have for breeding," Shirley Aguiar wrote on the website for her business, Shirl's Whispering Winds. "All of our puppies are raised as part of our family, they are our pets and are well loved. (They) are well socialized with kids, cats and other dogs. We are known for being the best miniature dachshund breeder in New England."

At the MSPCA Boston adoption center on January 8th, Halpin described the dachshunds' condition when they were first taken into custody. "They were really dirty," he said, shaking his head. "Some of them were soaked in urine and caked in feces."

Some information about them can be found on the website for Shirl's Whispering Winds, which includes a questionnaire for prospective customers and information about the dogs' vaccinations and nutrition. The site also features 4 pages of references, most of them from around 5 years ago, from dozens of people praising the Aguiar's' business. Descriptions of a welcoming, clean home and a diligent, caring breeder contrast sharply with the dirty, unsanitary environment reported by the MSPCA.

"Shirley is strict about her breeding practices and always puts her pets' welfare first," one woman wrote on the website. Another reported that, "the home is very welcoming and Shirley and her husband treat you like family." "This is absolutely much more than a business for her," wrote a third.

One of the posted references, by a Massachusetts resident named Diane, was written in 2010 after she bought a puppy from Aguiar. "She had a beautiful split level house in Fall River," Diane, who asked that her last name be withheld, said "Everything was clean, all the dogs we saw there were great. They seemed like a happy, normal couple." Not long after Diane bought her first puppy, Aguiar and her business moved to Westminster.

In 2011, the MSPCA began receiving complaints from neighbors and even customers. One of the calls was from Diane's daughter, Diane said, based on what they found when they went to pick up a second puppy from Aguiar in 2013. "I walked in and I said, 'Shirley?'" Diane said. "It was so dirty, I didn't even recognize her. It was like something happened and I don't know if it was just a lack of money, but it was just unkempt." She added that another customer who the Aguiar's weren't expecting came to pick up a puppy, "and the look on her face was like she was petrified. The look she and her husband gave each other was like they were expecting something."

She said the puppy for the other customer was "covered in poo" and had to be washed. The difference between her 2 experiences with Aguiar, Diane said, was "so shocking."

Halpin said the MSPCA visited the property 3 times between 2011 and 2013, but "no violations of the state's animal cruelty statute were identified at that time." He said, though, that he often encounters poor treatment of animals by owners who are not actually violating any laws.

Chris Basiul, the general manager for Oxford breeding business Laughlin Kennel, said treatment of dogs by a breeder often depends on the number of people caring for the dogs and the organization of the dogs' home. At Laughlin Kennel, he said, "we currently have 37 adult dogs ... a person dedicated to the kennel, and me, the general manager, if anything needs to be done after hours. There's a kennel building that has indoor-outdoor runs, so the dogs can come in and go out wherever they want." Basiul added that the MSPCA drops in a few times a year to make sure things are OK at the kennel. "We answer to them," he said. "If they saw something wrong, that's an unfortunate situation for the dogs." In his experience as a breeder, Basiul said, 71 dogs would require a lot of living space. "That should be a very large home, and you should make sure there are enough people to take care of the dogs," he said. "If it was set up the correct way, maybe it could work."

Unfortunately, according to Diane, Westminster police, and the MSPCA, the Aguiar's' home lacked the space and the number of people to properly care for the number of dogs that were living there. Another strange aspect of the situation is that there is no record of the Aguiar's owning the property. As of this past September, Westminster Assessors' records listed the owners as Phillip and Margaret Nelson, who both died more than 6 years ago. When they were alive, the Nelsons operated a business called Cedarshake Kennels out of their home at 21 Harrington Road, and a sign reading "Cedarshake Kennels" is still displayed on the property.

Town Clerk Denise MacAloney said the Nelsons first obtained a kennel license in the 1980s with a special permit. The property has held a kennel license since then, which was most recently renewed in early 2014. Basiul explained that, in Massachusetts, a kennel license can only be issued if the property has been inspected and approved by the local animal control officer. This means that Westminster's animal control officer, Mark Ransom, must have seen the property about a year ago and approved the Aguiar's for a 2014 license.

Ransom did not respond to requests seeking comment, so it's not clear how much changed in the past year, but on a recent visit to the Aguiar's' home he felt the situation had gotten extreme. He asked MSPCA for help removing the dogs and with an animal cruelty investigation, and told local police to notify the Department of Children and Families that children living at the home were being abused or neglected.

Representatives from DCF were not able to comment on the status of any investigation. Halpin said there was not much he could share about the MSPCA investigation, but he did say their law-enforcement officers are keeping a close eye on the Aguiar's."Once a situation is an active law-enforcement investigation, we're very close by and coming by quite frequently," he said.

Abby Shotts, animal care and adoption councilor for the MSPCA, plays with some of the 71 dachshunds that were seized. Photo courtesy of John Love/Sentinel & Enterprise

At the MSPCA in Boston, the dogs seemed energetic and happy. Some of them still had matted fur, and some appeared thin, but they were sweet, cuddly and friendly. The MSPCA adoption specialists taking care of them already had favorites, and were able to tell all of the dogs apart. They all were given "breakfast-themed" names at the shelter, such as Wheatabix, Java and Flapjack. "I think they've really come a long way," Halpin said. By January 15th, many of the dogs had undergone veterinary examinations.

"At least one of the dogs has an upper respiratory infection," Halpin said, adding that the infection is very treatable. He said all of the dogs will need teeth cleanings, some of them have some ear and eye infections and at least one is pregnant. Halpin said some of the dogs will be available for adoption this week.

One of the dogs seized now at the MSPCA. Photo courtesy of John Love/Sentinel & Enterprise

Update 1/6/15:
MSPCA Press Release
BOSTON and Methuen, Mass. Jan. 6, 2015 – Seventy one Dachshund-type dogs were voluntarily surrendered to the Westminster, Mass. Animal Control facility last night from a home at 21 Harrington Road in Westminster, and 60 of the animals have been transported to the MSPCA-Angell’s adoption centers in Boston and Methuen, the organization announced today. The remaining dogs will stay at the Westminster facility until new adoptive homes can be found.

The dogs—a mix of males, females and pups—arrived at the MSPCA adoption centers this afternoon, where they await veterinary and behavioral evaluations.

Most of the dogs are underweight and matted and some are coated in urine and feces. The conditions inside the home have been described as extremely dirty. Moreover, some of the dogs were housed in cages outside, with little protection from the elements.

Law Enforcement Investigation
The MSPCA’s Law Enforcement department has opened an investigation. “At this stage we cannot comment on the status of the investigation but, should there be details we can release in the days and weeks ahead, we will do so,” said law enforcement officer Nadya Branca.

Mike Keiley, director of the Noble Family Animal Care and Adoption Center at the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen, is overseeing the arrival and the sheltering of 30 of the dogs. “We’ll do everything we can to make the dogs comfortable, and we expect to carry out health and behavior checks in the days ahead,” he said.

Keiley also stressed the need for patience, particularly among those eager to adopt. “The dogs are coming from a traumatic environment and they’ll need time to settle down. They’ll need to be spayed and neutered, and they’ll likely have some health issues that we’ll need to help them overcome.”

The MSPCA will announce availability of the dogs for adoption once these evaluations have been completed.

Update 1/13/15:
MSPCA Press Release Update
MSPCA begins accepting applications on rescued Dachshunds

The Boston and Methuen adoption centers will begin accepting applications for adoption for the large group of Dachshunds that were surrendered last Tuesday. Since their surrender the adoption center staffs have been hard at work assessing the medical and behavior needs of each individual dog and are nearing a point where the dogs will be ready to be adopted into new and loving families.

In the next few days the staff will be finishing their treatments and scheduling their spay/neuter surgeries prior to them being made available for adoption. In the meantime we will be starting the application process with interested parties. Since the announcement of this large surrender hundreds of potential adopters have contacted our centers about adopting these dogs. We are excited by the outpouring of support from the public, but also recognize the number of interested parties far outnumbers the number of dogs we will have available for adoption. To be as fair as possible and to help us choose the best possible homes for these dogs, applications for adoption will be accepted in person at each of our adoption centers on Wednesday January 14th and Thursday January 15th during open hours (please see our website for open hours as each location’s hours vary). Applicants will be interviewed individually by adoption center staff and determination of adoption eligibility will be made after all applications are collected and reviewed. To make the process more efficient we ask that people review our adoption criteria and bring all necessary documentation with them at the time of applying.

Important considerations prior to adoption
It’s important for families to recognize that these dogs have come from an environment that is very different than a regular home environment and were housed in large groups. As a result we want to be sure that families interested in adoption have given careful consideration to the needs of these dogs and the challenges they may encounter as they transition from a large group to individual companions. Each dog will likely need considerable help with housebreaking and will likely require a behavior modification plan to help with this. It is also important for people to understand that because these dogs have been living in a large group and were isolated from normal daily life they may take time to adjust to the normal life of a dog. Families should be sure that they have the patience, time and resources necessary to work through these issues prior to applying.

Update 2/3/15:
The Aguiar's face 7 felony counts each of animal cruelty, after officials removed 71 dachshunds that were allegedly kept in squalid, freezing conditions at their home, the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said. Shirley and Edward Aguiar were charged with subjecting the dogs to unnecessary suffering and failing to provide a sanitary environment by the law enforcement department of the MSPCA, which investigates and enforces animal-cruelty laws, said Rob Halpin, an agency spokesman. “They were living in conditions that were not suitable and not healthy,” Halpin said.

An arraignment date will be announced by Gardner District Court. Under the “Puppy Doe Law” passed last year by the state Legislature in response to a Quincy case, a felony animal-cruelty conviction carries penalties of up to 7 years in prison and $5,000 for a first offense, increasing to 10 years and $10,000 for subsequent offenses.

MSPCA officials visited the Aguiar's’ commercial breeding operation at their 21 Harrington Road home in Westminster several times over the past 2 years, but previously found no violations of the animal-cruelty law, Halpin said.

1 of the dogs in an undersized cage at the Aguiar's kennel. Photo courtesy of the MSPCA

On January 5th, however, Westminster Animal Control allegedly found many of the dogs matted, dirty, and covered in urine and feces, with some suffering from frostbite, he said. “The situation had declined,” Halpin said. “It had gotten much dirtier. It had gotten far more cramped...It had gotten much colder in January, and many of the dogs were living outside with too little shelter from the elements.”

Halpin said the public should beware of dog breeders who keep animals in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. It is “a red flag,” he said, when breeders conduct business entirely online and discourage visits to their breeding facility, as the Aguiar's allegedly did. “People need to be very careful about evaluating their breeder and they need to check...personal references and veterinary references, and visit the homes of the breeders before they decide to buy,” Halpin said.

Many of the dachshunds allegedly lived in an outdoor area that was located behind the Aguiar home and had a roof but no walls, Halpin said, despite temperatures that dipped into the teens in early January, according to the National Weather Service.

After the Aguiar's voluntarily surrendered the dogs, about 30 were sent to the MSPCA facility in Methuen and 30 to its Boston facility, while the rest remained with Westminster Animal Control.

The dachshunds have recovered and are now healthy, Halpin said, and most have been adopted. “All of the dogs are going to need extensive dental work, and we prioritized adopters who agreed to bring their dogs in for veterinary care,” he said. Only one of the dogs remains in the MSPCA’s Boston facility: Flapjack, a tan-and-brown 11-year-old male.

Update 3/21/15:
Westminster dog breeders Edward and Shirley Aguiar were arraigned yesterday in Gardner District Court on 14 counts of animal cruelty and ordered not to operate their business. The Aguiar's, who until early this year owned and operated a dachshund breeding business called Shirl's Whispering Winds, had 72 dogs seized from their home by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in January.

According to court documents, Westminster Animal Control Officer Robyn Inniss called the MSPCA after responding to a complaint about a sick puppy purchased from the Aguiar's. Inniss visited the property on December 31st and returned with MSPCA law-enforcement officer Nadya Branca in January.

Ed & Shirley Aguiar appeared in Gardner District Court. Photo courtesy of John Love/Sentinel & Enterprise

In Branca's report from that day, she wrote that she could "instantly smell a strong odor of feces and urine" from outside the home. Once inside, she wrote in her report, the odor "was noticeably stronger." Several of the dachshunds living indoors were being kept in rabbit cages, with empty water and food bowls and dirty bedding, according to the report.

In the outdoor kennels, Branca reported, "there was so much urine and feces in each cage due to the lack of cleaning and the number of dogs that the dogs were forced to walk in it and lay in it. In addition, she wrote, "some runs did not have any bedding, and in some there was 1 soaking wet, dirty blanket," and "the floors of the kennel were not heated and it was very cold." According to Branca's report, Shirley Aguiar "claimed she had been taking care of some really sick family members and that 3 kennel staff had quit recently, so the cleaning had gotten away from her."

Branca explained to the Aguiar's on January 5th, that they "were in serious violation of the law," at which point Shirley Aguiar started to cry, "agreed that she was overwhelmed and should have asked for help." "She went on to say that she loves her dogs and has always taken good care of them," the report said. Aguiar agreed to voluntarily sign all the dogs in the kennel over to the MSPCA, but did not agree to surrender the dogs living in the house. As MSPCA workers and animal-control officers began removing the dachshunds, Branca noted that "every dog was soaking wet with urine and many had caked-on feces...their nails were long and some had goopy green discharge from their eyes."

Seventy-two dogs were taken that day to the Wachusett Animal Hospital, and on January 7th, Shirley Aguiar agreed to surrender the remaining 2 adult dogs and 6 pups, according to the report.

On January 8th, Branca received a call from Innis, informing her that 1 of the dogs "was not doing well" and had a low white blood-cell count, as well as frostbite. According to a letter from MSPCA Veterinarian Erin Abraham's, 3 of the dogs "had painful, abscessed teeth." After talking with veterinarians at Wachusett Animal Hospital and the MSPCA, Branca charged the Aguiar's with 7 counts each of animal cruelty by MSPCA law enforcement.

At Friday's arraignment, the Aguiar's were told they may remain in their Westminster home until their next hearing in April but will be on probation. Terms of their probation include allowing the MSPCA to conduct monthly visits to their home and ending operation of their breeding business until the court proceedings are concluded. Though Assistant District Attorney Michael Luzzo said he "had no problem" with the Aguiar's maintaining ownership of several pets, he requested on behalf of the commonwealth that they do not engage in their business. Attorneys John Fink and Sean Smith, representing the Aguiar's, agreed to the terms. "If you violate these terms," Judge Arthur Haley told the defendants, "you can be held without right to bail until trial."

Neither of the Aguiar's has entered a plea yet. Their next court appearance will be at a pretrial hearing April 24th.

1 of the dogs after being given a bath at the MSPCA. Photo courtesy of the MSPCA

Reference: The MSPCA

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