El Dorado Hills, CA, dog rescue CEO denies animal abuse claims

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Sheriff’s and animal services officials on Tuesday July 19, 2022, recover and care for dogs found among 25 alive and dead dogs at a home on Tea Rose Drive in El Dorado Hills, California.

El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office

The El Dorado Hills woman charged with felony animal abuse says her animals weren’t neglected after local authorities on Tuesday raided her home and seized more than two dozen of her dogs and found two dead puppies in her freezer.

“Please don’t believe what they are spinning in the media,” Sandi Tidwell wrote on Facebook in a private post reviewed by The Sacramento Bee. “All the dogs were fed, giving (sic) water all day and loved.”

El Dorado County officials arrested Tidwell, who runs an organization called the Sierra Nevada German Shepherd Rescue, at her home after receiving “multiple complaints regarding a stench of feces” coming from her Tea Rose Drive property.

While serving a search warrant Tuesday, deputies and animal control officials seized 25 live dogs and found two others dead on the property, said Henry Brzezinski, chief of El Dorado County Animal Services.

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Sheriff’s and animal services officials on Tuesday July 19, 2022, recover and care for dogs found among 25 alive and dead dogs at a home on Tea Rose Drive in El Dorado Hills, California. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office

Tidwell’s organization said the dead dogs — puppies that were in the freezer — were awaiting burial.

Tidwell’s dog rescue operation is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations in California that seek to find homes for at-risk pets by removing animals from shelters or acquire them from people who can’t safely care for them. Volunteers or employees then try to put them into temporary foster homes or find them a permanent adoptive family.

Brzezinski said the dogs taken from Tidwell’s property were a mix of ages, from adults to young pups. They are currently being housed at the county’s animal shelter in Diamond Springs.

“They’re being properly cared for,” Brzezinski said. “They’re in a safe surrounding at our shelter.”

Other than encouraging tipsters who might have more information about the case to contact his office, Brzezinski otherwise declined to comment on the active investigation.

Puppies kept in freezer

Online jail records show that Tidwell was released not long after she was arrested Tuesday. Her bail was $10,000.

Sierra Nevada German Shepherd Rescue was founded in 2016 and listed Tidwell’s Tea Rose Drive home address on the incorporation papers filed with the California Secretary of State. The Franchise Tax Board suspended the organization four years later.

The group refiled nonprofit incorporation papers with the Secretary of State’s Office in April, listing Tidwell as the CEO.

The group’s website, which has since been taken down, said its mission is to provide a sanctuary for abandoned and abused dogs, as well as dogs that were at risk of being euthanized at local animal shelters. “Our goal is to place them in a permanent home that best suits each dog’s specific needs with qualified owners,” the website read.

In a statement to The Bee sent via text message, Sierra Nevada German Shepherd Rescue said Tidwell “loves and keeps in contact with the majority of dogs … she saved” and “truly cares for each and every one of them.”

“We can tell you there weren’t dead dogs lying around rotting,” the statement said. “They were puppies that were being preserved in the garage freezer who were born with medical defects and were seen by vets and being monitored.” The statement said the less than 8-week-old pups were eventually going to be buried together.

In her Facebook post, Tidwell said one of the dead pups succumbed to “fading puppy syndrome” — a condition that describes a puppy dying from unknown causes.

The other died from hydrocephalus — fluid build-up in the brain — and pneumonia, she wrote.

“I rushed him to the vet in tears to humanely let him go,” she wrote of the second pup.

Client not surprised by charges

In her Facebook post, Tidwell said she’d been struggling to find the dogs homes.

“How many times did I beg and plead for fosters and adopters?” she wrote. “No one would step up and almost 90% of the dogs were returned from fosters for one reason or another.”

One of those would-be fosters, Mackenzie Firestone, told The Bee that she wasn’t surprised to learn that Tidwell had gotten into trouble.

“I got a sense from a lot of people that like once the dog had been rescued,” Firestone said, “she just basically dumps it on people and doesn’t help or anything.”

Firestone fostered a German shepherd named Sky from Tidwell’s organization in early February. She said Tidwell’s organization promised to give her dog food, a dog crate and promised to book Sky a trip to the groomer to get the dog cleaned up, but she never received any of it.

Firestone said Sky was too aggressive toward Firestone’s other dogs, so she asked Tidwell to take the dog back and find Sky a more suitable home. Firestone said a document she signed gave her the option to return the dog as long as Firestone gave two weeks’ notice so the organization could find a new foster family. After, she claims Tidwell wrongfully accused her of abusing Sky with a shock collar.

Eventually, the rescue organization sent another family to pick up Sky from Firestone’s Rancho Cordova home, Firestone said. She added that she never interacted with Tidwell directly or saw the home where the alleged abuse took place.

“I never actually met her in person,” she said. “It was all online stuff.”

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Sheriff’s and animal services officials on Tuesday July 19, 2022, recover and care for dogs found among 25 alive and dead dogs at a home on Tea Rose Drive in El Dorado Hills, California. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office

It’s not clear when Tidwell would next appear in court. The El Dorado County Superior Court’s website doesn’t allow the public to search for criminal case information. Brzezinski, the animal control chief, said he hadn’t been given a date for her arraignment.

In the meantime, Brzezinski said the dogs seized from Tidwell’s property would likely be in the county’s custody for at least two weeks before they could become eligible for adoption.

He said the delay is due to a mandatory waiting period that happens when authorities seize someone’s dogs.

While the majority of animal rescue organizations avoid problems, sometimes the groups get overwhelmed, he said.

“Well-intentioned people, you know, can get in over their heads,” Brzezinski said, speaking in generalities and not specifically about Tidwell’s case. “They want to do everything for the animals, and it’s just overwhelming.”

The Bee’s Dale Kasler contributed to this story.

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Ryan Sabalow covers environment, enterprise and investigative stories for McClatchy’s California newspapers. Before joining The Sacramento Bee in 2015, he was a reporter at the Auburn Journal, the Redding Record Searchlight and the Indianapolis Star.