A Half Century of Suffering Ends
Warren County, TN Puppy Mill
I always know when I’m close to a puppy mill because I can literally smell the suffering, but the puppy mill epidemic is a sly one. I estimate there is a puppy mill within 20 miles of every American home but deception keeps them hidden and ignorance perpetuates the suffering. As is the case with most puppy mills, the entrance of the Warren County, Tennessee mill was well disguised at the end of a heavily wooded road in rural area, topped with an endearing “Welcome” sign and a flowery façade. However, all you have to do is pull back the curtain and the decay and suffering are revealed.
Once down the typically long driveway, I immediately started to see the signs of hell. In this case, 50 years of dilapidated hell. Dozens of feces-encrusted structures were scattered throughout the property with no thoughtful design. Enclosures that had been carelessly constructed throughout the decades of this mill’s operation were crowded around barns and cramped into the middle of the yard. Space had been roughly carved into the thick surrounding woods for the crumbling wood and wire hutches that teetered precariously over slow-moving water – a breeding ground for disease. The basement, where the majority of the nursing mothers and puppies were kept, was a showroom – the only area prospective buyers were allowed. The suffering that was so blatant outside was better hidden here, though the high ammonia levels were so dangerous we were not allowed to enter until it had been aired out by a Hazmat team.
It was 3:30 p.m. on March 29 when we came to free animals from these cells that had represented the entire world for so many dogs for so many years. Like most puppy mills we raid, we weren’t sure of the exact number of dogs we were going to find. As the team assessed the situation, we tore away sheets of plastic that had been stapled to the rusted, filthy rabbit hutches and quickly estimated that more than 100 dogs were languishing behind the opaque curtains. In total, there were 121 dogs living in misery and 7 others who were recently deceased. One young pup had actually been using two of his dead cage mates as a blanket.
Dogs living outside had no access to edible food and any water available had long-since turned green. We knew underlying conditions would be found once a veterinarian examined these dogs. Many appeared 20 pounds heavier than they really were – their emaciated bodies hidden under their matted fur. One Maltese, as seen in the photo, wagged her tail and showed an eagerness to be in my arms as I opened her cage door. I smiled and spoke to her but she would not come to me. I reached far back into her filthy cage and when I shined my flashlight on her I realized her fur had matted to the wire floor. The innocent prisoner literally stuck in her cell for who knows how long licked at my hands as I spent the next few minutes carefully cutting her out. I lifted the six year old we would later name Celie out into the fresh air and she clung to me, so ready to forgive what humans had done to her and so ready to finally be a dog.
Inside the house, dogs’ eyes were filmy and burned from living in the high levels of toxicity for years on end. The amount of cruelty was immeasurable, but by 2 a.m. on March 30, 121 dogs and 5 exotic birds were given the promise that they would suffer no more.
We saved 126 lives that day, but it is the support of law enforcement that keeps more animals from suffering in the future. The District Attorney of Warren County was quick to respond when we informed them of the situation a week prior to our joint-effort rescue. Their office didn’t hesitate to mobilize resources because of their intolerance to cruelty in their community. It is only because of their dedication to justice that we are able to do what we do.
This rescue called for a focused effort from all ARC personnel but it would not have been possible without the weeks of preparation and follow-through expertly handled by Tennessee State Liaison Peg Petrelli and Intake Officer Lorie Van Olst. We also couldn’t have done what we did without the support of rescue partners, generous donors and committed volunteers. The city of Nashville and beyond in the Volunteer State showed true compassion to those who had never known compassion before. Hundreds of people put their lives on hold in order to care for these animals – to clean a cage, provide some food, give a bath or simply extend a loving hand. Please see our soon to be published “Thank You” list for more individuals who deserve recognition.
Once out of the mill, the animals were immediately placed in ARC’s Emergency Shelter located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, where three primary programs were implemented: first, veterinarians and their technicians addressed both critical injuries as well as general health needs; second, groomers removed inches of feces matted and flea infested fur; and third, volunteers provided quality socialization time so that every dog was held and given human affection several times a day. It was the first time these dogs had experienced even this basic care.
Four dogs and the birds remain in state’s custody until a second custody hearing April 15. The rest of the 117 were awarded to ARC and then given to our rescue partners in order to start a new life: New Leash on Life, Snooty Giggles, Agape, Nashville Humane Association and Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee, who received Celie. Celie will be spayed and receive further vetting this week, then will be fostered with them for the next month before she is put up for adoption.
Celie is bounding down the road to recovery but there are millions more dogs who need our help. This is a story of just one puppy mill – one mill out of an estimated 15,000 in the United States. The puppies, products of misery and greed, are sold online, the conditions of their birth misrepresented by deceitful photographs. They are also advertised through carefully worded classifieds and in pet stores – always sold far from view of their suffering mothers. Animal Rescue Corps was designed to focus on rescuing lives from industries that profit from cruelty. We will not stop until every single one of them is revealed for what they truly are and extinguished.
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