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Ohio animal rights activist kills herself, 31 rescue dogs, police say

By Haley Draznin, CNN
November 11, 2013 -- Updated 0202 GMT (1002 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Founder of Animal Rights Foundation found dead in running car with 31 rescue dogs
  • Investigators found prescription vials in the vehicle and a suicide note inside the house
  • One dog survived and is recovering at home with founder's husband and son

(CNN) -- The founder of an animal rescue organization in Ohio committed suicide, taking dozens of pets with her, the Moreland Hills Police Department told CNN.

Sandy Lertzman, 62, founder of the Animal Rights Foundation, was found dead November 4 inside her garage in a running car alongside 31 small rescue dogs, police said.

Investigators found prescription vials in the vehicle and a suicide note inside the house.

According to Sgt. Janet Boehler, a friend discovered Lertzman's body. It is unclear how long Lertzman and the pets had been dead before they were found. Lertzman was last seen alive November 3.

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An organization that rescues and rehabilitates all types of animals, Animal Rights Foundation considered Lertzman a pioneer in animal rescue.

"She woke every day to help all of God's beautiful creatures. She fed the deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, geese and what she called 'Sandy's Safe Haven For All Animals' at her home,'" a statement on the Animal Rights Foundation website said.

According to Boehler, one dog survived. Police say it jumped out of the car, and they found it in garage when they entered the home.

The surviving dog is recovering at home with Lertzman's husband, Rick, and son, Matthew.

"Animal Rights Foundation will continue, as strong as ever, in Sandy's memory," the organization said on the website. "We will go on caring, supporting, and helping all animals in distress and supporting laws to protect our animals in her honor."

Animals returned to widow after husband frees exotic animal, shoot self

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