April 23, 2007 — -- Sara Whalen devoted her life to saving abandoned animals at her Pets Alive sanctuary just one hour outside New York City in the peaceful Catskill mountains.
When the 64-year-old died of brain cancer in March, though, she left behind a shocking legacy: 600 sick and neglected animals were found locked in filthy kennels or wandering aimlessly in the cold.
No one -- least of all those who financially supported the sprawling 80-acre facility in Middletown, N.Y. -- knew the once-reputable sanctuary had quite literally gone to the dogs.
When the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society was called to help, its members found 200 dogs, 60 of them confined to unlit, cramped rooms, as well as 200 roaming cats, many of them with heart conditions. Shivering outside in the cold were 25 horses, 100 chickens, an assortment of goats, pigs and exotic birds.
"The place looked like Auschwitz," said Leslie Farney, 51, of Warwick, N.Y., who just adopted an 18-year-old border collie named Maddie. The dog has Lyme disease, parasites in his bones and has been unable to eat because his teeth have fallen out.
"She has been in a closet, and that's how she acts," Farney said. "She doesn't have the strength to bark."
For more than 20 years Whalen exposed farm animal abuse and puppy mills, and served as the only retirement home for New York City's carriage horses.
One of the sanctuary's longtime supporters, Grammy-winning pop singer Rob Thomas, and his wife, Marisol, had raised funds for the no-kill shelter. Most animal shelters euthanize abandoned pets after 48 hours.
"It's so heartbreaking," Thomas told ABC News. "It was a double whammy. We were all in the dark."
Thomas is the driving force behind the band Matchbox Twenty.
The couple's charity, Sidewalk Angels Foundation, supports the homeless, children's hospitals and Pets Alive, where they adopted an abused terrier named Tyler in 2003.