WESTMINSTER, Md. (WJZ) — A Hampstead man pleaded guilty Wednesday to 11 animal cruelty counts after officials found more than two dozen dead dogs inside a Carroll County home being used as an unlicensed breeding operation in April.

A judge sentenced John J. Roberts to 33 years in prison, suspending all but 11 years and 11 days. He will also spend five years on probation after his release and will not be allowed to own any animals during that time.

Animal control officials went to a home in the 4300 block of Black Rock Road on April 2 for a check-welfare call. When they arrived, they found 27 live dogs and 11 dead dogs inside the home, which was covered in sludge and had an overwhelming smell of ammonia, decomposition and fecal matter, officials said.

After getting a search warrant, officials went back to the home on April 8 and found 15 dead dogs in a shed and more in the home’s bathtub. In total, they reportedly found 27 live dogs and 27 dead dogs.

John Roberts. Courtesy: Carroll County Sheriff’s Office

Laura Filler. Courtesy: Carroll County Sheriff’s Office

Roberts and Laura Filler had been renting the home since 2008 and were running an unlicensed breeding operation called “Black Rock Dalmatians” and “Black Rock Puppies.”

Filler pleaded guilty to 11 counts of aggravated animal cruelty last week. She is set to be sentenced in January.

The Carroll County State’s Attorney said both Roberts and Filler were renting the home while operating an unlicensed breeding operation. The dogs were confined in the home without food and as much as four inches of feces covering the ground.

Animal advocate Holly Oertel said the trial was a painful reminder of the horrific discovery.

“My emotions were a mess,” she said. “You’re reliving a lot of stuff, and then when the pictures were brought up and the video, I was pretty emotional. There wasn’t really a dry eye in the courtroom.”

Some of the dogs were rescued, microchipped, and returned to their owners, while the others were laid to rest.

“He is a murderer,” Oertel said. “He was responsible for killing a lot of dogs, and it’s very disturbing and heartless.”

Filler is being held without bond at the detention center. Her hearing is set for Jan. 17.

Kelsey Kushner