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Two plead guilty in 'extensive' Knox Co. animal abuse case; grand jury to consider charges against pet sitter

Officers said they found numerous dogs, cats and other animals in poor condition or dead inside a home that was littered with trash and reeked of feces.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two family members accused of abusing several animals pleaded guilty Friday following a months-long investigation that began after multiple people who hired them as pet sitters reported that their animals had died in their care or were returned in poor condition.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office filed multiple charges against four family members after investigating a long list of allegations involving severe neglect and abuse of dozens of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, lizards, rabbits and other animals the family kept in the home on LeClay Drive. 

Animal control officers said they arrived in March 2023 to find the home filled with trash and reeking of feces and urine. Officers said they removed dozens of cats and dogs being kept in the home before the charges were filed, saying they also recovered four dead animals.

►READ MORE: 4 charged for animal abuse after Knox Co. investigation into pet-sitting deaths

“The findings were so extensive, veterinary cruelty checks needed to be conducted on each animal and the deceased animals were sent to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for necropsy testing (to attempt to determine the cause of death),” the report said. “If there were additional dead/decomposed animals, they were not visible in the clutter and garbage throughout the home.”

Two of the family members, Michelle Burgess-Morris and Isabella Morris, pleaded guilty in General Sessions Court Friday to animal cruelty. The two were put on two years  of judicial diversion, ordered to complete 72 hours of community service and are banned from owning any other pets for the rest of their lives unless it's a single service dog. 

Another family member, Haylee Morris, had her case waived for a grand jury to review. 

Thomas Morris, who was also accused in the case, had his charges dismissed, according to court records. 


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