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May 6, 2013

Anatomy of a Puppy Mill Raid, Page 3

Shutting down each puppy mill is a struggle all its own

All Animals magazine, May/June 2013

  • This tiny puppy was one of 74 dogs rescued from a mill in Mississippi in 2012. Disease, injury, starvation, and filth are common denominators across puppy mills. Chuck Cook/For The HSUS.

(page 3 of 5)

Most of the dogs don’t know how to walk on a leash or wouldn’t go along with rescuers even if they did, so every single one of them, friendly or not, is carried toward the mobile kennels in the rigs. A parade of people holding dogs passes through a tent where veterinarians inspect the animals for outward problems: fleas, fur matted with feces, skin conditions, hair loss, overgrown nails, infected paws, gum disease, tooth decay, emaciation, and fly-strike—tops of ears missing because of so many bites. Some dogs look pretty bad. Others appear normal.

“It depends on where they are in the hierarchy in the cage—and if they have a lot of parasites,” explains Pamela Keefe, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Charlotte. “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.”

The last to be rescued is a wolfhound running in a pack of dogs who long ago escaped from their kennels. He’s placed aboard the second tractor trailer around 5 p.m., and the rig, lights dimmed, soft music playing, pulls off, on its way to the temporary shelter in a warehouse by the Columbia airport. PetSmart Charities has donated $90,000 for the crates, leashes, collars, and bowls, all of which will go to the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office when it’s over. Even filled with animals, the big space is fairly quiet. “There are 200 dogs here; they’re silent because they don’t have to compete for food and water, they’re clean, and they’re dry,” says Sára Varsa, director of operations for the Animal Rescue Team.

During the next two days, dogs will be vaccinated, wormed, and given medications to prevent kennel cough, worms, fleas, and ticks. Vets will find all the usual signs of long-term neglect: ear mites, tapeworms, eye infections. Some dogs are isolated because of coughing, ringworm, or what appears to be mange. The terrier mix with the wagging tail is one of these. There are sores on her side and back where she’s chewed her skin.

Abel has lost a lot more than $385. She has a criminal record. And she can't get back the dogs she once profited from.

The Labradoodle has blood in his stool, gum disease, conjunctivitis, overgrown nails, and fleas. He weighs 40 pounds. He should be 60. Veterinarians can’t find a way to vaccinate him because his fur is so matted. When it’s his turn to visit the groomer, fur falls off in heaps, until the big dog finally stands, revealed, skin stretched over nearly nothing. He had been ever so slowly on his way to dying. Eyes still bright behind a curtain of bangs, tail still wagging, as he dwindled away. Tangled in the fur on the floor are small pieces of metal, perhaps from the kennel fence. They had torn into his skin every time he lay down. His belly is covered with cuts.

In her mug shot, the corners of Abel’s mouth are turned down in a defiant scowl. Her eyes are angry, her face hard. She looks as if she’s about to yell at you to get the hell off her property. She looks as if she’ll fight the charges, which means the dogs will remain in limbo, housed in the temporary shelter.

But nine days after the rescue, on Sept. 20, she pleads guilty to seven counts of ill treatment of animals and agrees to give up all her dogs, horses, and fowl, other than her three household dogs and parrot. She is ordered to tear down the outdoor enclosures for dogs and told that she will not be permitted to keep more than three dogs and one bird in the future. She is told that to get her pets back she will have to clean up her property within 60 days and pay for them to be cared for in the meantime and spayed and neutered.  (She can’t meet those requirements and will soon give them up as well.) She is required to pay $385 in court fees and has to donate hay to Equine Rescue of Aiken for the horses.

Lt. Randy Doran of the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office says the punishment could have been much greater—each misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 60 days in jail—but he and Mauceri and the judge were thinking about the animals: “If it would have been a major fine, I’m pretty sure she would have gone to a jury trial. We were more concerned about getting the dogs taken away from her.” And Abel has lost a lot more than $385. She has a criminal record. If she brings another dog on her property, she’ll have to spend seven months in jail. And she can’t get back the dogs she once profited from.

“I’m over the moon,” Mauceri says.

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