Sparta, Tenn., Puppy Mill

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More Than 250 Animals Rescued

American Humane Association provides emergency sheltering for animals rescued from appalling conditions.

American Humane Association’s Red Star Animal Emergency Services team deployed to Sparta, Tenn., on Feb. 11, 2009, to support a puppy mill seizure action. We were invited to participate by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which is managing operations in the investigation for the White County Sheriff’s Department. American Humane team members assisted the ASPCA and local law enforcement during the seizure and is staffing the emergency shelter located near the puppy mill site, providing care and feeding of the animals.

Read the latest press release about our rescue efforts.




Updated Reports From the Scene

American Humane Association’s Animal Emergency Services program manager, Tracy Reis, is filing reports from the scene.

Feb. 18

It’s been a hectic and grueling week for us, but now all the dogs and puppies -- including those born after the seizure, and those about to be born -- have been transported to shelters and rescue groups, just one step away from finding new, loving, forever homes!

Our friends at the Nashville Humane Association took 36 dogs back to their shelter. This is great news, as Nashville Humane has been such an important partner in this whole effort, and they are looking forward to getting these dogs into wonderful homes.

A local rescue took all of our very pregnant or nursing moms, and we are just thrilled that our momma dogs and babies will be receiving round-the-clock observation and care. Two dachshund rescues, DREAM Dachshund and All American Dachshund Rescue, took 12 of the “hot dogs.” I cannot say enough about how the purebred rescue groups so often step up to assist in these puppy-mill seizures. They love and are devoted to their breeds -- and it shows in their deep concern for getting these guys into appropriate and educated adoptive homes.

We also had 10 Pomeranians go out to rescues. The ASPCA took 43 dogs back to its shelter in New York, and the SPCA of Texas took 100. The Charleston Animal Society took 26, and A Place to Bark took 28. South Paw Animal Rescue and Sanctuary took 12.

With our commitments fulfilled and all of the dogs and puppies accounted for, the American Humane Association Red Star team’s work here is done. After loading the final transports, we began packing up supplies and crates, cleaning up our temporary shelter building, and making arrangements for our team members to head home for a well-deserved rest.

As you can imagine, we are all very tired and ready to go home. But as we leave, I can’t tell you how glad we are knowing that these dogs are going first into the good hands of the shelters and rescues who have stepped up to help them, and then into the arms of loving, adoptive families. Rescuing these dogs is only the first step in making a difference in their lives -- finding them the right homes is equally important, and our hats are off to the shelters and rescues who have taken on this important mission -- and to the compassionate people who will ultimately welcome these animals into their hearts and homes.

Feb. 14

It's been a very busy couple of days here at the emergency shelter where we are caring for the approximately 290 dogs seized on Wednesday. As I mentioned in my last note, it is amazing what a difference the past few days has meant to these little dogs. Well, they mostly are little -- we have some great boxers here as well! They all came in matted and filthy, frightened and sick. But now they are groomed, clean, warm, fed and watered. We still have a number of dogs in isolation or under medical observation, and we're watching them closely. But, for the most part, they are improving under the watchful eyes of our Red Star team.

We've had two "blessed events" in the past couple of days. One momma dog gave birth to a litter of 3 and another gave birth to 6. So we have some new, tiny babies to care for. Of course, we have other momma dogs who are nearing their terms also -- in a week we will have many batches of "littles" to watch closely and to care for.

I'm proud of the job my fellow team members are doing. It's hard work caring for these dogs -- some of them have to be handled with kid gloves because they really haven't had much human contact. They aren't happy being taken out of their crates, because that's all they've known their entire lives. Taking them out for everyday care is a tricky business -- their fear has to be managed carefully. It's just heartbreaking to think about what their lives have been like -- used only for breeding with no human love or contact, crowded 6 or 7 to a cage. You look at their faces and eyes and imagine what it would have been like for them if they had had a different life, living in homes with families that would have loved and cared for them. It just breaks your heart. But now they have a chance to live how they've always deserved to live.

Others, however, react differently -- they aren't fearful, but seem to just crave being held in the arms of a person and being petted. So our American Humane Association volunteers and staff alternate some "TLC" between the grittier jobs of cleaning and disinfecting crates, feeding and watering, and walking the larger dogs. We go back to our hotel at the end of the day tired and drained, but so pleased with the difference we've made in the lives of these guys. They don't know it, but soon they'll be traveling to various destinations where they'll finally have a chance to find forever homes -- far from the terrible conditions we found them in just a few short days ago.

Our team is a fabulous crew of folks, but the intensity of the work -- physically and emotionally -- wears on both body and soul, and we are eagerly awaiting a new team of Red Star volunteers to arrive and relieve some of our team members.

Since we are anticipating several new litters over the next few days, we’re scoping out how to expand the “maternity ward” to accommodate all the new mommas and the puppies that are on their way! A quieter, calmer, cleaner and more hopeful world than they would have been born into just a few days ago now awaits them -- and for that we are extraordinarily glad. Today it’s Valentine’s Day and our hearts are happy and hopeful for these animals.

Feb. 12, noon

Just a moment to breathe here at the emergency shelter and let you all know how it’s going. We were here until almost 2:00 a.m. this morning, doing intake on the over 250 dogs coming out of the Sparta site. The sheltering team caught about 4 hours of sleep, and we were back at it early this morning.

Kerri Burns was the team leader at the seizure site yesterday, and she described the seizure team’s day:

“Initially our American Humane Association Red Star team of six responders was tasked with being the “Quick Team.” That meant that, as the warrant was served and the seizure begun, it would be our job to go in quickly and capture any loose dogs that might be running around. But as the entire team of American Humane, ASPCA and law enforcement personnel realized what the scope of our effort would be, we quickly converted from a “quick team” to a full-scale dog-handling effort. The Red Star team helped clear an area for the veterinary station and then dived full tilt into the business of removing dogs from buildings, pens and crates and ensuring that they were numbered and labeled appropriately for vet evaluation and transport. The areas we worked in were covered in feces -- and as the rain came down hard yesterday, everything became slick with both feces and mud.

The team at the seizure site reported that many of the dogs appeared to have never been handled by people; they were fearful and trembling as they were removed from their crates and cages. And it also appeared that some perhaps had never been outside a building in their life -- as they were carried out, they would lift their eyes to the sky and visibly cringe, apparently fearful of the wide open spaces around them.

As we worked through the many buildings on the property we came to the building where the puppies were kept. Opening the door, we were appalled by the level of the ammonia smell inside. Before we could remove the puppies from this area, we had to regroup the team and ensure that everyone had appropriate respirators to do the work. We tried to vent the building in order to enter and work, but the windows were all stuck shut, so we just had to deal with the sickening vapors as best we could. Hard to imagine all these puppies having to live in this bad, bad place for any amount of time!

It was a long day at the seizure site. Handling hundreds of dogs is a huge task. But seeing them loaded on the transport trucks and headed for the emergency shelter, where we knew they would be taken care of by our American Humane teammates, was just the best!”

And I can tell you it was just as busy here, at the emergency shelter as these hundreds of dogs came in. Some of them clearly, as Kerri said, have had little or no handling by people, and they are fearful and difficult. These dogs may have spent their entire lives crowded into a crate with several of their fellows. They came in dirty, matted and with long, long unclipped nails. Today we have 20 in isolation, where we are monitoring either their pregnancies, their skin issues, their bloody stools or their eye ulcers. We have several that have sarcoptic mange infestations. All of these are quarantined based on their medical needs and are receiving care and treatment.

The other, healthier dogs are getting petted, groomed and clipped, and you can just see by looking at them that they are more comfortable -- perhaps the most comfortable they have ever been in their lives. Fed, watered, clean, dry and not crowded into crates with 6 or 7 others, they are settling down to sleep and to rest. What a difference 24 hours and some dedicated care has made in the lives of these little guys!

We have several nursing moms, of course, and several “about to be moms” -- and we keep a close eye on both the moms and their little ones. Cleaned up, they are so very cute.

OK. Let me wrap up here, as there is lots of work to do. Our partners from the ASPCA , Nashville Humane and law enforcement are just awesome to work with, and everyone just walks around thrilled to have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. But we have feeding, watering, cleaning, dog walking and medical attention to take care of. And then, when we are done , we will do it all over again for as long as the dogs are here. I’ll update you again soon.

Feb. 11, 6:25 p.m.

The American Humane Association Red Star Team was up before dawn, and it’s been non-stop since we pulled our boots on this morning. The seizure of well over 200 dogs from a suspected puppy mill began early this morning, with a team of six Red Star responders assisting our partners from the ASPCA and local and state law enforcement. At the same time, another team of six Red Star responders were preparing the temporary emergency shelter to house the dogs once the seizure is complete.

After the warrant was served and the property secured, the American Humane Association team, led by Kerri Burns, began carrying dozens of dogs out of a situation that no animal should ever have to live in. Many of the dogs and puppies are sick, and all are living in terrible, filthy conditions -- with many lacking food and water.

Boston terriers, Chihuahuas, boxers, dachshunds, Lhasa apsos, cairn terriers, Shih Tsus, miniature pinschers and other breeds were carried away from the building that has been their “prison” for many years. Once removed, they were immediately readied for transport or were brought directly to one of the four veterinarians from the local community, who have generously agreed to provide assessments and initial care for these poor small dogs. When the dogs arrive at the vet station, skin and blood samples are taken, so further treatment needs can be determined and provided for at the emergency shelter where they are then transported.

We worked steadily until just after noon today, when suddenly everyone was ordered to leave the site and take cover due to a tornado warning! This storm came in fast, packing hard rain, high wind and pea-sized hail at the emergency shelter site, where the dogs will receive the health care, rest and food and water that they were desperately lacking in their feces-covered cages back at the seizure site.

Thankfully, the storm passed over in about 90 minutes, and we immediately went back to work as the first of the transport trucks from Nashville Humane began to arrive, bringing the first of many groups of dogs into the shelter that will be their home for at least the next week or so.

Work continues this evening, both at the seizure site and at the emergency shelter. Another truck is arriving, so I’ll pick this up tomorrow. We still expect over 100 dogs to arrive tonight -- we have a lot of work yet to do before we can hopefully get a few hours of sleep. Tomorrow, we will be up early and back at it, caring for these poor little guys who have known little or no kind human care for their entire lives.

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