A woman from Michigan turned out to be the key for Mercer County deputies in finding almost 200 dogs trapped in a hoarding situation.

Lauren Strickland, a woman from southwest Michigan, contacted the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and Mercer County Animal Control after she feared her dogs had been stolen by a woman living in Sherrard. That tip led to the arrest of 59-year-old Karen Plambeck, who now faces three counts of aggravated animal cruelty and up to three years in prison.

The story dates back to early August, when Strickland was trying to sell her eight collies to a person in Washington state. Trying to make life easier on Strickland, that person recommended using a liaison to help deliver the dogs from Michigan to Washington. Strickland liked the idea, and agreed to meet with the person in the middle.

“She said, ‘I’m going to send my transporter to come and pick up the dogs,'” Strickland reminisced. “I got her name, it was told to me her name was Kay.”

But unfortunately for Strickland, that liaison turned out to be Plambeck, who was using the fake name “Kay” and a burner phone to do business. Without Strickland or the person in Washington knowing of Plambeck’s history, Strickland met up with Plambeck and gave her the eight collies.

“Karen did seem very nice, very charming, very knowledgeable,” Strickland said.

But after that, Strickland began to worry when she went days without hearing a word from Plambeck. She says she reached out to animal rescue organizations that she knew Plambeck had dealt with before, and she became even more worried when they told her about Plambeck’s history of animal cruelty.

That prompted Strickland to text Plambeck demanding her eight dogs back.

“I texted her, ‘I want a picture of my dogs, I want to know what’s going on. Where are you? I would like to just come back and retrieve them, I’ll deliver them myself at this point,'” Strickland said, reading the texts she sent to Plambeck.

But instead of a cooperative response, Strickland received an odd message in return.

“She said, ‘Sorry, I moved to Texas,'” Strickland said, reading the text Plambeck sent to her. “I said, ‘You moved to Texas???’ She said, ‘Yes.'”

The silly excuse inspired Strickland to do even more research on Plambeck, which led her to Mercer County. She immediately called animal control and the sheriff’s office, filing a complaint.

That complaint led animal control and deputies to go to Plambeck’s house in Sherrard to investigate. When they arrived, expecting to possibly find just Strickland’s dogs, they found the 198 dogs Plambeck had been hoarding instead, with all of the dogs suffering from moderate to severe dehydration, and some of them suffering from sarcoptic mange, emaciation, skin ulcers, wounds, muscle necrosis, maggots, Parvovirus, fractured bones and more.

One of the dogs was so ill it no longer could walk, and was euthanized, court documents say.

“Disgust. Absolute disgust,” Strickland said, recalling the discovery. “I went there to find my missing dogs, and they found 200 dogs in horrible, deplorable conditions. It’s just disgusting. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Authorities arrested Plambeck and got the 198 dogs out of the filthy situation, with Strickland driving down from Michigan to get her dogs back and watch the situation unfold. Strickland was able to find and get back four of her eight dogs, but she found out one was going to be kept by animal control.

As for the other four dogs still missing, Strickland later found out Plambeck had shipped two of them to other states, and they have since been located. But the other two dogs are still unaccounted for, and Strickland is asking anyone who might have answers to come forward.

“I have the two missing, Holly and Storm,” Strickland said. “We’re working on hiring a private investigator at this point because we just don’t know what else to do. We’re desperate for any information.”

As for Plambeck, she has her first preliminary court hearing in Mercer County set for Sept. 6 at 9 a.m. The dogs rescued from her property will remain in the care of animal control and various pet rescue organizations for now.