KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After four people were charged with animal abuse and more than 40 animal seized, Young-Williams has shared a statement about the incident.

As of March 16, Young-Williams Animal Center has received a total of 42 pets that animal control seized from a pet sitter’s home on March 8 and 14. Michelle Burgess-Morris, 50, Thomas Morris, 51, Haylee Morris, 22, and Isabella Morris, 19, were charged with two counts of felony aggravated cruelty to animals, two counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals and one count of a misdemeanor violation of rabies laws, according to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

In their statement, the shelter shared that one of those charged had previously adopted and fostered pets from the shelter. In the Knox County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a report that Haylee Morris had adopted 15 animals, including 8 rabbits, from Young-Williams Animal Center. She told investigators all but one died.

“Young-Williams Animal Center has a vast local network of experienced fosters, adopters and families who care for multiple animals at a time successfully, especially small pets such as birds and hamsters who normally thrive in groups. However, in this case, an individual that came highly recommended by multiple animal rescue organizations, was well-regarded by people in the community and met our requirements, purposefully misled our staff and other organizations in order to obtain an excessive number of animals,” wrote the shelter.

The shelter went on to say that the person took advantage of their policies and misled staff by “providing multiple names and addresses”, adopting through partner locations and other methods. In July 2022, a community rescue contacted YWAC with concerns about the animals.

“Our team took the allegations seriously and joined the rescue in asking Animal Control to investigate. These concerns led us to end the foster agreement and place an adoption and fostering ban on the person in our system. Young-Williams Animal Center has not allowed the individual to adopt or foster animals since July 2022,” reads a release from the shelter.

The shelter added that its staff is “devastated by the treatment of animals” and the resulting deaths.

“We know from experience that animal hoarding cases are complicated, but unfortunately animals in these situations do not receive the appropriate level of care,” said YWAC.

The shelter said it will “continue to work with animal welfare groups including other local rescues and Animal Control to improve communication between organizations” to help the animals and communities they serve.

Pet owners who hired the sitter shared with WATE that they were relieved that action has been taken.