Last week, members of our Animal Rescue Team assisted law enforcement authorities with the rescue of more than 20 dogs and puppies from an alleged neglect situation at a residential property in Vidalia, in northeast Louisiana along the Mississippi River.

This situation was one of many our Animal Rescue Team has responded to this year. We deploy at the request of and in collaboration with local organizations and law enforcement agencies. Local groups are typically the first call for citizens concerned about cruelty or neglect, and the work done by animal welfare groups around the country to intervene and assist has saved countless animal lives.

However, there are also cases—ranging from response to disasters to puppy mill investigations to animal fighting cases—where smaller local groups and law enforcement agencies can use backup and support. In such instances, we are honored to step in to help. For that reason, we hire and train animal rescue personnel, who are ready to work alongside local societies and law enforcement entities trying to keep animals safe.

In Vidalia, our team came to the scene at the request of the Vidalia Police Department and the 7th Judicial District of Concordia Parish. Law enforcement officers served a search and seizure warrant to enter the property. The owner had failed to address problems and issues identified by law enforcement officials after community residents raised concerns about the welfare of animals on the property, and efforts to assist with advice and pet supplies had not resolved them, either.

An investigator with the Vidalia Police Department holds one of the puppies rescued.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Our responders found dogs scattered all around a yard strewn with debris and feces. Many of the dogs were tethered by chains and lacked adequate access to decent food and shelter. Six of them were fenced inside a small pen with nothing but two small dog houses and a ragged tarp for cover.

Several dogs watched responders with cautious eyes as they began removing animals.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The dogs were itching and scratching themselves constantly, and many had long, overgrown nails and serious skin conditions. Most of the dogs had their ribs showing, a condition especially evident in the puppies.

Most of the puppies were severely underweight with fleas visibly crawling across their bodies.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

A veterinarian who examined the dogs noted that many of them were underweight and heavily infested with fleas, which responders could readily see moving all over the animals’ bodies.

The dogs are currently at an undisclosed location where they continue to receive veterinary attention and care.

Whether it involves 20 dogs or 4,000, a rescue deployment is always a difficult experience for staff responders and for local humane and law enforcement authorities. In the course of their work, they deploy to grim situations worse than anything the rest of us could imagine, and they find animals in conditions that none of us would ever wish to see. And the clock is ticking the whole time as they assess the animals’ situation, address any urgent injuries or concerns, and transport them to proper facilities for treatment and care. On top of that, responders must maintain their professional demeanor and honor their training, as the properties involved are treated as potential crime scenes by law enforcement officials.

With our presence in states across the country, we are no strangers to emergency response and to animal welfare concerns. And we stay committed to the communities in which we’ve responded, frequently following up with training, infrastructure support and other services.

Louisiana is one of the strongest examples of such commitment, because in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating 2005 storm there, we made substantial investments to support animal welfare infrastructure in the Gulf Coast states.

In the years immediately following that historic disaster, we provided more than $8 million in recovery and reconstruction grants to 45 local organizations and committed $5.8 million to pet health and overpopulation initiatives. We donated more than $2 million to fund shelter medicine programs at the veterinary schools of Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University, programs which continue to train veterinarians for service in Gulf Coast communities. We generated more than a quarter of a billion dollars in free advertising to promote the work of local shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi, in cooperation with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council. We also paid for the construction of America’s first prison-based animal shelter at the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana. Today, the PenPals shelter takes in and rehomes animals to families in several Louisiana parishes. Just as importantly, as an auxiliary facility, it plays a critical role in statewide response to animal-related disasters and emergencies.

Such investments, significant as they are, cannot eliminate animal cruelty and neglect so long as there are people who willfully neglect their basic responsibilities to animals in their care. Even as we look to the root causes of animal cruelty and focus our best efforts on stopping it through public policy, corporate reform, and education and training, we never forget about the animals suffering right now in situations like the one in Vidalia. They are just as dependent on our mercy and energy as any animals on earth, and when we can make a difference for them, we’ll always be ready to do so.