Puppy farms are places that often keep dozens of female dogs in terrible conditions and force them to breed until they drop. The parenting dogs usually suffer miserable, short lives, and – needless to say – the practice needs to be stamped out.
The context isn’t wholly simple, though. Only about half of the states in the U.S. have laws defining a commercial breeder. In those states such breeders must maintain certain standards and can face penalties if they are found to be neglectful.
In Tennessee, meanwhile, a commercial breeder is anyone with 20 or more female dogs or cats who sells the offspring. Now here’s what happened when some breeders in The Volunteer State flew under the radar – until the authorities stepped up to the mark.
In June 2016 the sheriff’s department in Gibson County, Tenn., received a tip-off relating to the fact that a bunch of dogs were suffering terrible abuse at an address on Griers Chapel Road. Moreover, what officers found when they investigated the property was truly horrific.
The address belonged to a dog breeder who seemed to think animals are just products to sell rather than living creatures. The property was stacked high with tiny cages filled with puppies in “horrendous conditions,” in what the sheriff’s department is referring to as a “puppy mill.”
Gibson County officials were joined by the not-for-profit national animal protection group Animal Rescue Corps (or ARC), and together they saved around 48 dogs from their torment. They also found two dogs on the property dead – one of them rotting in a cage with other living captives.
The dogs crammed into the urine- and feces-soaked cages were mostly small breeds like terriers and poodles, though three large dogs had free reign to run around the property. Many of the dogs lacked food and water, and some were kept in cages outside with little to no protection from the elements.
“These dogs have been locked in a cage their whole lives and forced to have litter after litter. They have never known what it’s like to be a dog. Most of them have never felt the ground beneath their feet or a kind touch,” said Scotlund Haisley, president of the ARC.
“The conditions were very typical of a puppy mill, where animals live in deplorable conditions and are treated as nothing more than breeding machines. These dogs have been suffering from various untreated illnesses on this property for a very long time,” Haisley added.
The ARC rescue mission, which took the name Operation Summer Saves, relocated the dogs to a nearby emergency shelter. It wasn’t the first such rescue in the neighborhood, and the shelter was still in use. It was a good thing, too. The chronic neglect the dogs suffered had led to some severe health conditions, including mange, dehydration and parasites.
After proper medical treatment and care, the dogs that survive will be put up for adoption. ARC reported that the breeder is facing 50 counts of animal cruelty. “Cruelty and abuse, whether inflicted on a person or animal, will not be tolerated in this county,” Gibson County sheriff Paul Thompson said.
Although some of the puppies sadly didn’t make it, Haisley was happy with the operation. “A lot of suffering ended here today and I commend the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office for acting quickly and working with Animal Rescue Corps to save these lives,” he told news site WREG Memphis.
Operation Summer Saves wasn’t the first Tennessee rescue of the week, though. Five days earlier, ARC worked together with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) on Operation Dire Straits, which began with the sheriff’s department investigating an animal abandonment complaint.
With that case, the overwhelming smell of ammonia gas from the animal waste inside the house greeted the deputies at the door. Breaking through the locks, the rescuers found small dogs scrabbling in the filth and debris without any obvious food or water sources in sight.
The property had long been abandoned, with the animals locked inside the house. The floors, meanwhile, were saturated with urine and feces. And whatever nourishment the animals might have been provided with before the owners left had long since been consumed.
ARC and the sheriffs found 20 dogs at the address, some of them only a few weeks old. Mostly mixed Chihuahua breeds, the neglected dogs suffered from emaciation, intestinal worms, parasites, alopecia and other nasty conditions.
David Wood of Morgan County Sheriff’s Department was appalled by the conditions. “It’s just pitiful that a dog, or any kind of animal, would be treated this way,” he said.
Upon further investigation around the exterior of the property, the rescuers found four dogs chained to trees and other neglected animals. It was an appalling scene – one that makes you wonder if the owner had just upped and died while away from home.
But no, in fact the owner was still alive and living elsewhere. The owner claimed to be a dog breeder, but the authorities rescued 20 dogs; three roosters; one hen; a potbellied pig; two ponies; and five donkeys, including four miniature breeds.
The owner was charged with a dozen and a half counts of animal cruelty and released on bond. And it was for this case that the ARC arranged for a temporary emergency shelter to be set up in order to treat the rescued animals. All the creatures were given immediate veterinary care. And, as with the surviving Operation Summer Saves dogs, the hope is that all the animals will find loving forever homes.
“I’m so grateful we were in a position to respond to this request; we didn’t get here a moment too soon,” Haisley said. “These animals were on death’s door when we arrived, but they’re safe now and we’re going to do everything possible to help them recover.”
“For people wishing to foster or adopt, ARC will publish its list of shelter and rescue placement partners on its Facebook page once the dogs are transferred to these groups,” ARC wrote on its Facebook page. You can also find more information about their work on animalrescuecorps.org.