Circumstances Unclear in Death of Bethesda Hobby Breeder
The Bethesda woman who last week was found dead along with three of her beloved dogs bred them as a hobby and was an officer of the American Lhasa Apso Club, a disturbing revelation among the tight knit community of lhasa apso breeders. Ann Burton, 65, died of apparently natural causes (though police have not confirmed the cause of death) sometime before Fire and Rescue Services found her in her home in the 9400 block of Corsica Drive late on Tuesday, Sept. 11. Fire and Rescue officials said they discovered a cluttered house and "possible hoarding" conditions, as well as 10 small dogs. Three were dead. Another had to be euthanized by an emergency veterinarian because it was so malnourished, according to Montgomery County Police Animal Services Division Capt. Michael Wahl. The surviving six, now up for adoption through the Montgomery Humane Society, were "victims of neglect" and may need additional dental work and diagnostic testing, the Humane Society's BJ Altschul said. The circumstances surrounding Burton's death are unclear. Some in the breeding community said she was not mentally fit to care for the dogs, though she was prominently featured in the American Lhasa Apso Club's latest bulletin. "The circumstances there are criminal and that's all I'll say about it," said Potomac lhasa apso breeder Norma Perna, one of the few who agreed to speak at all about Burton. Others, such as friend Pamela Klinedinst, were upset by reports that characterized Burton as a "hoarder." Klinedinst got together for lunch with Burton and others in the women's group at the Concord St. Andrews United Methodist Church every few months. Klinedinst said the retired social worker and only child was adequately caring for her mother, who was in a nursing home and was the only apparent family Burton had. "It may have gotten away from Ann because she was under a lot of stress," Klinedinst said. "But she was not a hoarder. She just took better care when she was able." Police have not said how long Burton was in the house or how they were alerted to check the house. Burton never married and had no kids, according to Dr. Linda Wolf Jones, an assistant pastor at the church who said she last saw Burton a few months ago. She had a litany of traffic citations, including driving without a license, driving under a suspended license and insurance violations stemming from a traffic stop in February. A trial was scheduled for November. Burton was the secretary of the American Lhasa Apso Club, a national organization that puts on lhasa apso shows. In the club's fall bulletin, Burton and some of her award winning dogs are prominently featured in a two-page advertisement. Gina Pastrana, a lhasa apso breeder in Anne Arundel County, said she didn't know about the alleged neglect of the dogs. "We're pretty exasperated about it and we didn't know all that was going on," Pastrana said. Wahl said his division does not specifically regulate hobby breeders. State law allows for people to breed dogs for non-commercial purposes. All establishments with more than 25 dogs are subject to an annual "commercial kennel" inspection. The six surviving dogs, which Altschul said the Humane Society is classifying as shih tzu because of their size, weight and coloring, have already received some interest from potential adoptive owners. "These dogs were all victims of neglect and in a situation where their owner was unable to provide them proper care," Altschul said. "They are most likely not housetrained and may need additional socialization and training. [The Humane Society] will advise prospective adopters what to expect." Jones said she didn't know much about Burton's personal life, but her love for her dogs was readily apparent. She once brought some to a church event to entertain children. "You couldn't go more than 10 minutes without knowing she raised lhasa apsos," Jones said. "We were around the same age and I was very fond of her as a friend, but I don't know anything more about it. It's brought up that conversation among a number of us. Whatever happened, a heart attack or a stroke, it's all too real a possibility."