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May 7, 2013

Anatomy of a Puppy Mill Raid, Page 2

Shutting down each puppy mill is a struggle all its own

All Animals magazine, May/June 2013

  • The HSUS's Ashley Mauceri documents the squalor at Callie Abel's puppy mill. Allen E. Sullivan/For The HSUS

(page 2 of 5)

This isn’t the biggest of the HSUS-assisted puppy mill cases in 2012, or the most dramatic. But it is one more methodical step toward putting the estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the United States out of business. Every dog will be going to a real home. And every dog will be evidence: Health problems that veterinarians meticulously document will be used to build a case against Abel and to push for reform—in Edgefield County and the nation as a whole.

“When you see it on the news, it looks like two minutes ago we got the complaint, and we’re fully deployed on the ground and pulling animals,” says Tia Pope, manager of puppy mill response for the Animal Rescue Team. “But it takes emails and conversations and visits and videos and almost launching a political campaign—when it’s all said and done, it takes a search warrant. And each one we do, we equip the locals, we recruit volunteers. We empower people to take care of their own backyard.”

The HSUS team begins to sweep the property. Mauceri and Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty response, stride through the jumble of objects piled haphazardly in the yard—rusty jumper cables, a colander, milk crates, a carpet cleaner, kid’s bicycles, a rototiller—and  enter the double-wide through a side porch cluttered with empty dog food bags and half-assembled cages. Inside, it looks as though someone has come home from shopping time and again but never had the energy to put anything away. There’s the bottom of a crock-pot, the base of a coffeemaker, bags of spices spilling across the stove, and big containers of instant oatmeal, hot dog buns, peanut butter, and syrup. Dirty dishes fill the kitchen sink and beyond. Fly strips are coated with insects. On the one remaining burner that’s accessible sits a pot containing an oily, murky liquid many days old. “I don’t see how a person can live in a place like this,” says a sheriff’s deputy.

In the living room, a parrot perches in a cage encrusted with droppings. Further back, a desk is spread with drugs, syringes, IV bags, pills, powders, medicated shampoos, unopened dog toothbrushes—Abel’s vet station. In a corner lies the studio where Abel concocted the images she used to sell dogs: a table with rusty metal legs, draped with a dusty blue quilt and set with doll-sized wicker chairs. Lamps are jury-rigged to light the scene. Nearby, there’s a puppy in a cage. Parascandola assigns that animal and Abel’s three small household dogs codes, H1-01 to H1-04—the start of an inventory of the animals and map of the property.

Outside, team members survey some 60 enclosures. Dogs are barking, yipping, growling. Horses graze around a 3-by-5-foot pile of ash and charred, splintered bones, on grass littered with deer vertebrae and scapulas. Along two sides of the backyard are rows of chain-link kennels like the kind that holds the Labradoodle.  Along another side stands a row of big rabbit hutches with slatted metal floors and puddles of urine and feces below.

"The puppies look really cute. But the puppies are only here for six weeks. ... The dirty little secret is what their mom and dad are going through."

Field rescue responder Troy Snell crawls into a hutch and a nursing pug-beagle mix emerges from the darkness of a box at the back, slowly, tentatively. The puggle’s nails have grown so long her feet are splayed. She walks almost as though she’s forgotten how.

“Hi mama, how you doing?” says John Moyer of The HSUS’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign. “You are beautiful. Yes, you are!”

Hidden behind a tall wooden fence lie a score of smaller rabbit hutches tightly packed together. Chickens, ducks, guinea hens, and geese roam the cesspools beneath. Flies swarm. State Sen. Jake Knotts, in a white shirt and tie and gray pinstriped pants, treads through the squalor. He’s here at Kelly’s invitation to see the results of South Carolina’s lax laws. “This is something else, ain’t it? Something you just can’t believe unless you see it.” He approaches a hutch with a black and white terrier puppy. “Come on, touch me, come on.” The puppy’s mother shivers in the doorway. “Ain’t nobody going to bother your puppies,” Knott assures her. “They’re going to wash you and give you a home.”

One by one, senior field rescue responder Rowdy Shaw empties the small hutches, gently wrangling trembling mothers, holding them by the scruffs of their necks so they don’t nip. “You tried to bite me—I’m not food,” he says to a pug whose big eyes follow his every move. He kisses her face, and she tries to lick him.

When he reaches the kennels, Shaw searches out bigger dogs in igloo houses or holes they’ve dug beneath. Many are scared and dart away, teeth bared. Keeping a safe distance, Shaw lassos them with a leash, then wraps a second leash around their jaws as a muzzle so he can pick them up. He’s careful to keep a firm grip. Eventually, they calm in his embrace.

Other dogs greet the rescuers like old friends. A dusky-looking terrier mix missing much of her fur narrows her eyes to slits as she’s hoisted, savoring the human contact. After a moment, her tail begins to wag, like a long ago memory. A brindle boxer hidden in a kennel overgrown with weeds jumps up on the chain-link fence as the rescuers approach, eager for attention.

Way in back, behind a row of other kennels, Mauceri finds the Labradoodle in a kennel with a tethered Labrador. He leaps on her with his big paws, wanting to be loved. She feels through his coat and instantly knows what has happened: “It’s kind of like survival of the fittest if she puts a cup of food in with more than one dog. Only the dominant dog gets it.” Mauceri lifts the big bundle of dirty brown and white fur in her arms. The reason for the rescue is suddenly immediate, tangible. “He’s a doll—I love him so much. He’s so sweet,” she says. And then she talks to the dog, who is also smiling. “This is what I have been working on for you for three months.”

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