Amber Fraley's family spent two years searching for their German Shepherd, Duke, after he disappeared in 2017. In the end, it wasn't they who found him — it was police, who discovered Duke among the dozens of animals living in one of the worst animal hoarding situations Clermont County had ever seen.
Twenty-two dogs and nearly 50 animals in total, including cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and horses, were rescued at the start of the year from a Bethel home where they lived in their own feces with old newspaper as bedding. Two more dogs were found dead on the property.
“Awful," Lisa Rabanus, who was involved with the rescue effort, said. "I put VapoRub under my nostrils. It’s something coroners do with dead bodies. It smelled of ammonia from all the cat litter.”
The Clermont Care Animal Humane Society called her employer, All Dogs Come From Heaven animal rescue, to assist in removing the animals from the property.
“In an animal hoarding situation, I feel like if you need help, the rescue community, animal lovers are out there to help," Rabanus said. "We’ll bend over backwards to get a nice place for the animals. We’ll find, we’ll make room. You have to ask for help. These people didn’t ask for help. You need to punish them to a certain extent to make sure they know there’s a problem, and that it doesn’t happen again.”
The homeowner in Bethel faces charges for animal cruelty.
When shelters began to publish pictures of the rescued animals, Fraley said, his father recognized Duke among them.
"My dad was blowing up my phone all morning long," Amber Fraley said. "I hadn't responded. Michael wakes me up and said, 'Amber, look at this picture. Your dad said they found Duke.'"
The family traveled to All Dogs Come from Heaven Tuesday afternoon to be reunited with Duke.
"He was our best friend," Fraley said. "He was our family. He was with us all the time."
But Duke wasn't one of the nine dogs being nursed back to health at the All Dogs Come From Heaven facility. The Fraleys next went to check Clermont Animal Care, which is housing eight of 22 neglected dogs.
Duke was there.
"I instantly knew it was him," Fraley said. "When he first disappeared, we thought he was trying to get back home. He had been seen so many times over Bethel for almost a year."
The family's plan now is to get Duke better and then bring him home.
As for the other 21 dogs rescued, many will need time to heal, but officials with the Clermont Animal Care Humane Society say they'll all soon be up for adoption.