FOX 8 Defenders: Hounded

Thibodaux, La. -- A Lafourche Parish couple feels they're prisoners inside their own home.   Even there, they say they can't escape the disturbing noise that plagues their property.  Now the FOX 8 Defenders are on the case.

When Vivian and Joey Sanchez bought a large piece of land outside Thibodaux last summer, they planned to make it home.

"I have a 12-acre crawfish pond.  It goes 2,000 feet to the back.  We bought this for the peace and quiet, but we just not getting it," said Joey Sanchez.

The Sanchez's say the peace and quiet is drowned out by barking dogs, dozens of barking dogs in their neighbor's yard.

It's grabbed the attention of the Humane Society of Louisiana, Lafourche Chapter.  "I've never seen this many dogs on one piece of property," said the Humane Society's Pamela George.   "At times that I've been here, I think I've seen anywhere from 50 to 75 dogs," she said.

George said the dogs on this Little Choupic Road property appear to be Brittany Spaniels, a breed often used to hunt birds.

"We can't do no kind of activity outside because they bark the whole time," explained Vivian Sanchez.   "Every time we come out, they disturb us... in the middle of the night... can't sleep, can't concentrate," said Joey Sanchez.

The Sanchez's tell FOX 8 they're sick over it, not just the barking but also the animal waste they say is not being contained and treated.  The smell and possibly the bacteria that could come with the animal waste concern the Sanchez's.   They've made sewage complaints with the Office of Public Health.

"We see him throw it [feces] in a pile along the fence and what else, we don't know.   We saw him dump some in the back in the grass," said Joey Sanchez.

The Lafourche Parish District Attorney tells FOX 8 the Sanchez's neighbor, Warren "Chris" Michot is due in court December 17 to face charges he violated the animal noise code, failure to vaccinate animals, and animal cruelty.

In the meantime, the Humane Society believes, like the Sanchez family, dozens of dogs are suffering.

"This is what you call the worst case of harboring that I've ever seen, is this right here.  This is cruelty at its worst," yelled George as she pointed to Michot's yard with dogs.

During our interview, we witnessed a dog get sick and struggle to limp away.  Flies swarmed his body.  Other dogs that were tied to a chain couldn't escape the flies if they tried.

"The flies, the feces overrunning from the cages... the dogs that were in feces when we came... There was not adequate housing for the animals nor was there water or food at the time, and the smell was ferocious," said George.

We tried talking with Michot from across the Sanchez's yard, but Michot didn't want to talk to us, continued to take pictures of us and later called the sheriff's office on us, claiming we harassed him.

We talked with Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre and he said, "They must be looking at a different set of animals because that is an absolute gross distortion and misrepresentation."

However, in a Lafourche Parish sheriff's deputy report in August, a deputy wrote, "Several animals were coughing in the kennels."  It says they "appeared to be overcrowded... at least five dogs in each kennel," and it says, "They were also laying in feces and appeared very dirty."

When the deputy confronted Mr. Michot and asked to see proof of vaccinations, the report says he told the deputy, "His vaccinations were protected under state law..." and the deputy "didn't have a right to see them."

"The requirement is that you have a rabies shot every year," said George.

The same report goes on to say, "Mr. Michot proceeded to clean his yard and spray feces out of the kennel and into the ditch on Mr. Sanchez's property."  The deputy charged Michot with 30 counts of failure to show proof of vaccinations, cruelty to animals for their living conditions, including being chained with no shelter, and resisting an officer.  The deputy's report says Michot "refused over an hour to sign a citation."

"The officer at that time, based their information on what they were able to perceive, Mr. Michot has not been cooperative with respect to the complaints and has been very forthright in the belief that there's been no basis for the complaints being filed," said Sheriff Webre.  "The evidence will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that cruelty does not exist and did not exist then."

"We've never had a case here this tough.  We've had other cases in Lafourche Parish that have happened within hours.  We had a search warrant and we had a seizure right then and there, but never had this trouble here before," explained George.

She said the Humane Society has hit a roadblock with the sheriff's office.

"From what they've said is, there's not enough criminal intent, which there is... I'm just not sure if they understand it or not, but there is enough criminal intent here," said George.

"Will we allow them [Humane Society] to tell us what animal cruelty is?  Absolutely not.  They are not a police officer.  They don't have law enforcement investigative authority, and their opinion has no value in a court of law," said Sheriff Webre.

Investigating other animal complaints on Michot, deputy reports say, "He's running a business...  Briarbrash Brittanys... an animal management facility... since 1979."  However, Lafourche Parish government says Michot doesn't have an occupational license.  If he is selling dogs like he's advertising online, he would need a license and have to pay taxes.

In another December complaint, it appears Michot tried to intimidate a deputy when she confronted him.  The deputy's report says he "pulled out a commission card and a badge..." and "immediately put it in the deputy's face and stated, apparently you don't know who I am."  The report says Michot warned the deputy that she "better not cite him for the dogs barking" because he "was above the law."

FOX 8 has learned Michot is a former employee of both the sheriff's office and the Thibodaux police department.

Back to the barking -- it's against the law in Lafourche Parish to own or harbor any animal that "barks... or makes any other noise continuously for a period of 10 minutes."

We've looked at several animal noise complaints against Michot since last year.  In December 2011, a sheriff's deputy reported, "For approximately 20 minutes straight, the dogs [on Michot's property] continuously barked unprovoked..." and the "deputy and the Sanchez's were inside the residence."

On February 22, another sheriff's report says, "The animals could be heard barking from the street, and their kennels were approximately 100 yards from the road."

On March 11, a sergeant reported "noise levels from the animals was so loud... that normal conversation would have been difficult."

"On at least five occasions we have validated what we believe are violations of the barking dog ordinance, and we have cited Mr. Michot on those occasions where the evidence supports the charge," said Sheriff Webre.

Since December 2011, the Sanchez's have filed more than 30 complaints with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office about the constant barking and foul odor, and we've learned the concerns and complaints against Mr. Michot started well before the Sanchez's even bought this property.

Neighbors on the other side of Michot's property also filed complaints of animal waste washing onto their property with the Office of Public Health in 1999 and again in 2005.

"We just ask for the barking to stop and the feces to go away," said Vivian Sanchez.

It doesn't appear the Sanchez's will be able to get a muzzle on the situation until the case goes to trial.  And for the dogs, the Humane Society fears the worst for their future.