By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — The man who had kept more than 250 live and dead Chihuahuas in his Orchard Street bungalow pleaded guilty last week to one count of felony animal cruelty.
Kenneth Lang Jr., 56, will serve five years probation in a Wayne County pilot mental health program that is designed to provide him with intensive treatment for what his attorney said are several psychiatric problems and a low IQ.
Lang admitted at a Wednesday hearing before Circuit Court Judge James Chylinski that it was abusive to keep the dogs among floor-to-ceiling garbage, covered in their own excrement. Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny, who oversees the mental health program, will sentence Lang formally Feb. 9.
Authorities first were alerted to Lang’s situation in July when a neighbor complained of animal noises coming from his house. What officials found inside ended up becoming one of the most unusual – and severe – hoarding cases the city has ever seen.
Old newspapers, televisions and radio equipment were interspersed with miscellaneous garbage throughout the nearly impassable house. A hole in the living room ceiling opened after loads of clutter fell through the urine-decayed upstairs floor. The dogs, which ranged from puppies to seniors, had taken to burrowing and nesting in the mess. It took emergency cleanup crews more than a week to clean the 1,300 square-foot house.
The cleanup required nine 30 to 40 yard trash bins – the large, steel kind generally used for commercial projects – to clear out the house. The house was declared unfit for human habitation and currently is in the city demolition process.
But the wretched conditions inside stood in stark contrast to the picture Lang presented to the outside world. The exterior of the white brick house was immaculately clean, and the lawn had nary a grass blade out of place. Neighbors said Lang was known as an eccentric- but-still-friendly-guy who had the only sprinkler system on the block and occasionally would cut their grass unsolicited.
Officials removed about 105 live dogs from the house. In freezers throughout the basement, they found about 150 dead dogs wrapped in plastic and dated with the animals’ apparent dates of death.
The flood of diseased, malnourished dogs put a strain on the Dearborn Animal Shelter, but also led to a regionwide outpouring of support. Of the dogs that were removed, only 13 remain at the shelter, while the rest have found permanent adoptive homes.
As part of Lang’s sentence he is required to pay $3,000 restitution to the Animal Legal Defense Fund for autopsies performed on the dead dogs.
Meanwhile, city officials say the only hurdle left to clear before demolishing the house is utility shutoffs. The demolition is expected to cost between $5,000 and $7,000, city spokewoman Mary Laundroche said, and will be billed to the house’s owner, Kenneth Lang Sr.