The situation was already desperate for the dogs at a suspected North Carolina puppy mill when their owner was found dead on the property. Person County Sheriff’s Office and Person County Animal Services called the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for assistance after arriving at the breeder’s property to find, along with several deceased dogs, more than two dozen dogs in dire shape with no access to food or water, many surviving by feeding off the carcasses of other animals. Stacks of debris and feces covered the floor, along with decaying bodies of dogs who hadn’t survived.

The American Kennel Club suspended the breeder for a year in 2015 for poor living conditions, but her website showed AKC registration papers for multiple dogs and litters, at least one of which was from earlier this year.

Meredith Blanchard of the HSUS Stop Puppy Mills campaign viewed photos and video from the property after Person County authorities reached out for help. “It was truly a horrific, heartbreaking scene,” Blanchard says. She and other members of the HSUS team assisted with the dogs’ transport to emergency medical care or to shelter and rescue partners, including Moore Humane Society and Pawfect Match Rescue in North Carolina and Peninsula SPCA in Virginia. Humane Society of Charlotte responded to the scene and took dogs into its care.

White fluffy dog in a shelter with law enforcement and an HSUS staff member
Tequila enjoys affectionate pets and scratches from caregivers.
Brent Clark
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AP Images for The HSUS

Like many dogs from inhumane mass breeding operations, the dogs were “pretty shy during transport, definitely not sure how to walk on a leash and pretty hesitant to approach people,” Blanchard says. Only one dog, Tequila, was initially interested in human interaction, though some of the others “warmed up pretty quickly but were still skittish and unsure.”  

The HSUS was happy to be able to assist in this case, says Kathleen Summers, director of outreach and research for the HSUS’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign. Sometimes smaller groups really need a helping hand, and this situation “is an example of the HSUS working to help shelters and local agencies, as well as helping with the medical needs of puppy mill dogs.”

“If it weren’t for the village that came in to help, as a small shelter we wouldn’t have been able to handle all of the animals,” says Kelli Oakley, director of Person County Animal Services. “People say there’s always a village who will help, and that’s so true.”

The HSUS is providing grants to help with the dogs’ recovery and ensure they find the loving homes they deserve, and will continue the bigger fight to stop puppy mills everywhere so that no dogs have to suffer like this in the future.