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Backaches, Heartbreak, and Hope in Mississippi

Notes from a cruelty investigation

The Humane Society of the United States

See images from earlier in the day»

After a grueling weekend rescuing 120 cats from a Rutledge, Tenn., home The HSUS Animal Rescue Team and members of our Cruelty Investigation department came to the aid of the Kemper County Sheriff's Department to rescue 163 dogs and 2 cats from Raven's Hope Animal Sanctuary. This sanctuary claimed to take in needy animals and adopt them out, but the sheriff's department had received numerous complaints of suspected neglect on the Preston, Miss., property.

When our team arrived on the scene, the small ranch-style house was almost obscured by makeshift pens full of dogs in the front yard. We were assisted on site by members of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. Even from the driveway it was evident that something was not right at Raven's Hope. Dozens of loose dogs roamed the property and lingered in the middle of a busy road out front. Several of these dogs wandered into the back of our sheltering vehicle as we opened the doors. One nearly hairless little terrier mix found a towel inside the sheltering vehicle, made himself a bed and settled in contentedly as if he had been waiting for our arrival. As we searched the rest of the property it became obvious why these dogs seemed so ready to be rescued.

Many of the dogs suffered from skin conditions that left them nearly hairless, while others had eye infections and untreated wounds. We were shocked to find one dead dog and several skeletal remains in the front yard alone. Things did not improve as we entered the house. Every square inch was covered in feces and trash. The smell inside was nearly unbearable, and our teams worked quickly to clear the filthy residence.

In one room we found a hound mix nursing a litter of newborn puppies. These young puppies are especially vulnerable to sickness, and being born into such unsanitary conditions puts them in grave danger. Unfortunately, two of the puppies had already passed away when we arrived. A third puppy was ice-cold and listless. One of our responders was able to warm and give him sugars to revive him. Despite a poor prognosis the puppy seemed to perk up as his body temperature rose. He squirmed about in our arms and began grunting. Everyone quickly lost their hearts to this little chocolate brown fighter with the candy-pink nose, but on the way to the shelter he suddenly stopped breathing. Despite mouth-to-mouth and gentle chest compressions our responders were unable to revive him. We were devastated by the loss, but grateful that the rest of his litter will be given all of the care they so desperately need now that they have been rescued.

It was after 10 p.m. when we pulled into the emergency shelter where our friends from United Animal Nations are assisting with the care of these dogs. Despite their ordeal every dog there seemed to know that this shelter was a safe place that marked a new chapter in their lives. Everywhere we looked we saw contented dogs sleeping soundly in their fresh, clean bedding. At the end of the night we received the good news that the owner had surrendered all of the animals to the Sheriff’s Department.

Despite the backaches and heartbreak felt throughout the shelter we all knew that nearly 170 animals who had started the day without hope now had a chance to live in peace and comfort. 

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