Owners of seized Waukesha chinchillas charged with child and animal neglect

Waukesha Police Department
A deceased chinchilla was located inside a Ziploc bag box in a freezer inside the home of Garrett and Tricia Rees on March 29. The Rees’ were charged with the mistreatment of the animals as well as three counts of child neglect.
Published on: 5/18/2015

The Waukesha couple that housed hundreds of living and deceased chinchillas in their home — which resulted in toxic levels of ammonia — have been charged with three child neglect offenses and another two counts in the mistreatment of the tiny animals.

Garrett and Tricia Rees were charged on Friday, May 15, in Waukesha County and will make their initial court appearances on June 15.

Both face up to nine months in jail for each of the child neglect charges and up to $30,000 in fines. They also face a combined 18 months in jail and $20,000 for negligently failing to provide the animals with a proper shelter and for intentionally treating an animal in a cruel manner.

Shocking conditions

The charges come more than a month after officers found the chinchillas at the rental home on the northeast side of the city.

Officers were initially called to the home at 2208 Melody Lane for a well-being check on March 29.

But while in the doorway of the home, an officer immediately smelled a strong odor of urine. Once inside the home, other officers said in the complaint that their eyes and noses began stinging and burning due to the ammonia level.

Chinchilla feces were found covering the hallway and kitchen floors. An officer, who added there were flies swarming around the kitchen table, soon noticed hundreds of cages filled with chinchillas. Officers also found 25 dead chinchillas in the garage and in the basement freezer, which also contained food items such as pizza, vegetables and frozen meat.

When asked by police how many chinchillas were in the house, Garrett Rees, 50, said he believed there were around 120. Police, however, ended up removing 331 chinchillas from the home.

After ammonia levels were found to be at a dangerous level and Waukesha Fire Marshal Brian Charlesworth declared the home uninhabitable, residents of the home were evacuated.

Tricia Rees, 39, said her three children — ages 17, 10 and 7 — weren't home at the time. However, firefighters located the Rees' 7-year-old son upstairs. The officer noted the child appeared drowsy and had dark rings under his eyes, according to the complaint.

Charlesworth said in the complaint there was no ventilation system inside the residence. Charlesworth said exposure to the level of ammonia detected throughout the house could cause breathing problems. He added it would only take 15 minutes to cause potential health issues.

HAWS involvement

The chinchillas were immediately turned over to the Human Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County, an organization that continues to care and treat for the rodent-like animals.

Jennifer Smieja, HAWS' development coordinator, said some of the chinchillas that were brought to the facility were pregnant and have since given birth. As a result, HAWS is now caring for even more chinchillas.

With the city of Waukesha still negotiating with the Rees' to give up legal custody of the chinchillas, the animals remain at HAWS. As a result, the chinchillas can't yet be adopted to new families.

Before being sent to HAWS, the chinchillas were examined by a licensed veterinarian, who indicated some of the chinchillas were mistreated. The veterinarian believed there was neglect toward at least one of the chinchillas over a period of months. Moreover, the veterinarian said, given the conditions of the residence, all of the chinchillas were at a greater risk of death.

According to the complaint, Garrett Rees told officers the chinchilla population in his home had gotten out of control and had planned on looking for a farm to place the chinchillas but had not done so.