RIVER ROUGE (WXYZ) — The River Rouge couple said to be behind 17 dogs found in poor health inside of a hot moving truck last May claim the celebrity status of someone involved in the case is why they've now been charged with multiple felonies, including animal abandoning and cruelty.
Ecorse police received a tip that led them to the dogs that were found in the truck on a very hot day. The dogs were said to be emaciated and suffering from parasites and urine burns.
Defendants David McMurtrie and Kayli Sparks said they had no idea the dogs had been left alone in the moving truck that was driven from Louisiana to Michigan by their friend, 20-year-old David Bowling, who is also charged with animal cruelty in the case.
The couple left Louisiana after falling out with Tia Torres, who moved the couple to her home state in hopes of guiding them in dog rescue.
Torres runs Villalobos Rescue Center and is the host of Animal Planet's "Pit Bulls & Parolees."
McMurtrie is an ex-con who founded the River Rouge rescue Pit Stop for Change, that he continues to run with Sparks.
But things ended badly between Torres and the couple after Torres said they repeatedly shot down her attempts to help them.
"To see it mess up like this, I'm just like shaking my head, like, why? Why did you let this happen?" said Torres in a phone interview with 7 Action News Wednesday about the new felony charges against the couple. "I hope that they do some time in a cage, you know, they need to be locked up in a cage."
After the couple left Louisiana last year with dozens of dogs, Torres was able to get back into the property she secured for them and found what she described as a horrific scene and what appeared to have been more than a hoarding situation.
Torres said she found a number of dead dogs in the dumpster.
McMurtrie and Sparks told 7 Action News last May that the dogs that died were sick and they wished they had buried or cremated them.
McMurtrie's defense attorney, Danielle Cadoret, said they blame the celebrity status of Torres for the Wayne County prosecutor raiding the couple's house and charging them with felonies.
"They've raided my client's house to get two dogs Tia Torres claims belong to her," Cadoret said. "Since she's a celebrity, they said, let us move mountains for you. We'll go raid a house to get your dogs."
Torres said any suggestion that the felony criminal case has anything to do with her celebrity status or television show is nonsense and a childish defense.
A spokesperson for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said the defendants in this case were charged because of their alleged cruelty to animals and receiving and concealing stolen property.
The dogs recovered from the moving truck are now in the care of Detroit Dog Rescue and they've shown remarkable improvements in their health.
Five dogs that Torres said were stolen from her have been returned. But McMurtrie and Sparks have filed a lawsuit for the return of those dogs.
"They're not even trying to get their own dogs back, like the other dogs they rescued that other groups ended up with – they're not even trying," Torres said. "They gave them up, yet they only want my five. It's almost like it's a trophy for them to say they got our dogs."
Cadoret said her client and Sparks still have a number of dogs in their rescue that are now being cared for by friends, and she said they have no intention on ending their rescue.
"At this point, we're trying to get the remaining dogs out of the state so they're untouchable," said Cadoret.
A preliminary examination in the case is set for next month.
If McMurtrie, Sparks and Bowling are released on bond, they're not allowed to have any contact with animals or witnesses in the case.