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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Hours after four dead puppies were found inside a home on June 5, deputies discovered 37 bags containing animal remains and seized about 40 live dogs from a woman who claimed she was running a non-profit organization that rescued dogs and trained them as service animals.

Nicole Hulbig, 29, has been charged with four counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and eight counts of animal cruelty.

Because the dogs in the bags were so decomposed, deputies could not tell how they died, and the remains were too degraded to send them to a lab for testing, Sgt. Sean Ryan of the of Sumner County Sheriff's Office Animal Control Division told The Leaf-Chronicle.

Officers could not even tell how many dogs there were in all. Ryan said because there is no way to tell how or even when the dogs died, Hulbig could not be charged in connection with those remains.

"They were so far gone, you couldn't make heads or tails of it. It was horrible," Ryan said.

Many of the live dogs who were living inside the barn were left without food or water, either in stalls or cages that were too small for the animals to stand up or turn around. Two others were living in a utility room inside the home.

"We found at least one dog ... with open wounds and skin issues," Ryan said.

Each dog's body mass score was rated on a scale of 1 to 9. An optimal score would be 5 or 6 but one of the dogs was so bony, with his ribs, spine and hipbones visible, that his score was a 1, Ryan said. Several dogs had ratings of 2 or 3, which led to the eight counts of animal cruelty.

There was also a large buildup of feces inside the barn, Ryan said.

As for the 37 bags containing dog remains, Ryan said Hulbig claims the dogs died after a distemper outbreak about nine months ago, but there is no way verify that claim.

Hulbig is the founder of RRR Service Dogs, which claims to rescue dogs from kill shelters and pair them with disabled soldiers or children with disabilities.

She says she is on bed rest because of a high-risk pregnancy and the care of the animals was left to her mother, 64, who was not charged with any crime.

The Leaf-Chronicle and the Sumner County Sheriff's Office Animal Control have been contacted by numerous organizations and individuals who say they turned dogs over to Hulbig for training as service animals and are worried about their fates.

Ryan said a few dogs have been reunited with owners or rescues who have proof of ownership, but the shelter has also received many e-mails with photos of animals who do not match any of the dogs seized from the home. Many hoping to find their dogs are disappointed to find theirs are not among the dogs taken by animal control.

Those not reunited will be available for adoption or turned over to other animal rescue organizations.

Disabled soldier Chelsey Lanier is one of the many concerned animal owners desperate to find her German shepherd, Flint.

"For all I know, she just killed my dog and he's one of the ones in a bag," Lanier said. "My question is, where is he?"

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