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May 7, 2013

Anatomy of a Puppy Mill Raid, Page 4

Shutting down each one is a struggle all its own.

All Animals magazine, May/June 2013

  • Before: The HSUS rescued Brownie from a Tennessee puppy mill in 2011. Kathy Milani/The HSUS.

  • After: Brownie was then adopted by Maudelle Russell. Kathy Milani/The HSUS.

(page 4 of 5)

Shutting down Abel's facility was a matter of naming what she was doing. Abel called her business a farm. The HSUS identified it as a puppy mill: an operation that sells dogs for money and fails to breed them appropriately or provide adequate housing, shelter, staffing, nutrition, socialization, sanitation, exercise, and veterinary care. That definition was agreed to last year by The HSUS, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Pet Products Association, the Pet Industry Distributors Association, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, and retailers Petco and Petland. Puppy mills flourish in 15 states where dog breeders are largely unregulated. In South Carolina, there is no limit on the number of dogs Abel could keep. And since she sold via the web and not to pet stores, she wasn’t required to be federally licensed and inspected. (That situation will change if the USDA implements a proposed rule to regulate online puppy sellers. The HSUS has pushed for the reform, mobilizing 350,000 supporters to submit comments in favor, and also urged passage of the PUPS Act, which would similarly close the loophole. That bill was reintroduced in Congress in February.)

Last year, after The HSUS began offering a $5,000 reward, the organization received more than 600 leads from its puppy mill tip line (1-877-MILL-TIP), the web, and state directors. Based on these, staff assisted with rescue operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Mississippi, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, West Virginia, and Canada, rescuing a total of 1,695 dogs.

Learn how to avoid buying a puppy mill dog »

Whether a tip ultimately results in an HSUS deployment depends on many factors: how relevant, reliable, and recent the information is; whether the case is big or difficult enough to require the organization’s direct involvement; whether the local law enforcement agency wants to proceed with the case; and what charges can be brought under state and local laws. Also on the availability of local partners and the logistical challenges of transporting, temporarily housing, and then placing scores to hundreds of animals. If a state lacks a law requiring those convicted to pay for the care of seized animals, then The HSUS has to be ready to cover that cost.

There are strategic considerations as well. If HSUS staff are pushing for change in a particular state where regulations are lax, cases can bring media attention and win the support of politicians. That’s what’s happening in North Carolina, home to the American Kennel Club’s operations center, which gets millions of dollars in registration and pedigree fees from puppy mills. The AKC has tried to block reform in North Carolina and across the country.

In the Carolinas and Georgia, the Johnston case gets a lot of press. TV reporters travel in from Greenville and Augusta. Scores of people denounce Abel online. Knotts, the state senator, pledges action—state licensing and inspection requirements for all commercial breeders (though he’s later unseated in the November election). Early in 2013, a bill is introduced to increase penalties for animal cruelty.

One mind is not changed, however. “What crime am I guilty of committing?” Abel asks on the website she once used to sell dogs. She tells an ABC station that she is a victim of The HSUS. She contacts the ACLU for help (they turn her down).

While Abel protests, the rescued dogs are miles away, safe and well cared for at shelters and rescues in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. Two dogs require surgeries for back and bone injuries. Others are being spayed and neutered and readied for adoption, getting used to dog food, gaining weight, growing back fur, and opening up to people.

The brindle boxer is among the first to find a home. One Friday evening in October, the Griebners of Laurel, Md., come to pick her up at the Washington Animal Rescue League in D.C. Other dogs from Calabel Farms are still huddling at the back of their steel and glass kennels, too frightened of people for visitors to handle. The boxer is ready, her tail stub wagging. She’s still skinny, but that will change.

“I wasn’t planning on a boxer,”  says Sue Griebner.  “I wasn’t planning on a 2-year-old. I wasn’t planning on one that had had puppies. But there’s something about this dog.”

Sue’s daughter Emma, 14, names the boxer Bella, after a character in the Twilight series.

The terrier who lost so much hair has a slower recovery. Gary Willoughby, president and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken, names her Emma. Once on a better diet, with enough vitamins and protein, her reddish fur grows back. But she remains shy. Willoughby fosters her in his home and she finally begins to relax, with him and with his dogs. One day a walk takes them past a shooting range and she goes crazy at the sound of gunshots. “You could tell she’d heard that before,” he says. “It really scared her.”

And Mauceri’s favorite?

In January, an email arrives from a woman who adopted the Labradoodle. She’s given the dog the name Roodle, though sometimes she just calls him Handsome. “I imagine you and your coworkers were the first friendly faces Roodle had [ever] encountered,” writes Blake Marler. “You thanked me for saving his life; I need to thank y’all! … Roodle is the best dog I’ve ever had.”

Attached are photos, ordinary and amazing: Roodle sitting with fluffy fur, curls of unsullied chestnut brown and pure white; Roodle’s smiling face at the center of a Christmas card; Roodle jumping up on the lower bunk of a bed where Marler’s son, Will, lies, eyes still closed, one arm stretched out to greet his friend.

In Johnston, the kennel where Roodle languished lies in ruins. It will never hold another dog again.

ON THE iPAD: Play video of the South Carolina rescue, watch a temporary shelter being set up, and see more adoption tales. Get the app »

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