HOWELL — The couple charged with 552 counts of animal cruelty in what was called the "worst hoarding case in Monmouth County history" could be allowed to have pets again as part of a plea deal.

The 276 dogs were rescued from the home of Joseph and Charlene Handrik in June in what Monmouth County SPCA Executive Director Ross Licitra called at the time  "an enormous mess.  He described the conditions in the home as  "absolutely deplorable" and said the dogs had “free reign over the house."

The day the dogs were removed from the home, Licitra said the number of small dogs kept growing.

“Eighty turned into 100 and 100 turned into 150, and then 150 turned into 200 and 250, and it just kept going and going." Licitra said the dogs were everywhere in the house, which he said was set up with tubes for the dogs to go through as if it were a giant hamster cage.

A hazardous material team was brought in along with dozens of workers from the SPCA, St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison and the Associated Humane Society of Tinton Falls to examine the dogs and prepare them for adoption. Workers could only spend a limited time inside because of the smell of waste.

Thomas Nuccio, the MSCPA's lieutenant of Humane Law Enforcement, said a plea deal has been offered to the couple but their ability to have pets is a sticking point.

"We are requesting a lifetime animal ban. They want to have animals again, at least a few, and say they'll be responsible owners," Nuccio said. A judge wants them to attend counseling and have a psychiatric evaluation completed before the deal is formally approved, according to Nuccio, adding it would be a "monitored situation" if they were allowed to keep pets.

Another part of the agreement are the fines and restitution for the expenses incurred by the rescue organizations. The fines are in excess of $150,000 minimum per person, according to Nuccio.

"We're trying to come up with a reasonable figure that fits everyone's needs. It was between $40,000 and $50,000 to care for the animals," Nuccio said. The Hendrik's home is in foreclosure because of their expenses in caring for the dogs.

Nuccio said all but five or six dogs removed from the home have been adopted. "We're still dealing with behavioral issues. They had no exposure to people so staff is working with them on their social skills.

Licitra said that in the weeks after the dogs were removed, the Hendrik's would call asking if they could have a few dogs back. "I said absolutely not," Licitra said.

But the MSPCA supports responsible pet ownership.

"We want everyone to have a pet. Pets bring great joy to people but if people aren’t going to do it responsibly that’s when we step in,” Licitra said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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