published Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Dogs rescued from McDonald, Tenn., puppy mill operation being assessed

Troy Snell, a field responder for the Humane Society of America, left, assists Dr. John Mullins of the Animal Care Center of Ooltewah, in examining small-breed dogs recently seized from a puppy mill in McDonald, Tenn.
Troy Snell, a field responder for the Humane Society of America, left, assists Dr. John Mullins of the Animal Care Center of Ooltewah, in examining small-breed dogs recently seized from a puppy mill in McDonald, Tenn.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Just over 100 small-breed dogs seized from a McDonald, Tenn., puppy mill operation may be on their way to adoption organizations in another week or so, representatives of the Humane Society of the United States say.

In a recent meeting, animal welfare officials reviewed the situation -- which involved 247 dogs found at a dog-breeding facility in rural southern Bradley County -- with county leaders.

Puppy mill operations are a "very, very common" problem, said Leighann Lassiter, Tennessee state director for the Humane Society. "There are a lot of people who are simply in this for profit. It's greed-based, it's not about the animals."

Lassiter said the Humane Society opened a temporary shelter last weekend in vacant retail space in Charleston, Tenn., to do health assessments on 101 of the dogs and provide them with vaccinations and other medical care, Lassiter said.

At the emergency shelter, the work with $5,000 in funding and supplies donated by PetSmart Charities and two dozen volunteers -- both local and from out of state -- resembles a Red Cross mobilization to help the dogs begin new lives.

Lassiter said a number of the animals suffer from infections and skin problems, and all were neglected.

She said the dogs were treated "like livestock, live production units," and they will need time and socialization to overcome their former life of filthy, cramped quarters -- the only life they've known.

"It will be a slow process to turn these animals into pets," Lassiter said.

The site does not serve as an adoption center, but valid animal adoption organizations across the county have been contacted about the animals' futures, she said.

The SPCA of Bradley County, which provides animal sheltering services to county residents under an $80,000 annual agreement with Bradley County, will be eligible to take some of the animals, Lassiter said.

Right now, the SPCA shelter's biggest concern is getting its current population of animals adopted, director Bobbi Anderson said. It is not accepting any more animals now, she said, citing the capacity of the Johnson Boulevard facility.

"We have not actually put a capacity into place," Anderson said. "I did put a stop to all intakes at this time, until we can come up with a sufficient number for the well-being of the animals. So, that is something that really needs to be addressed."

Before the Humane Society field operation launched, more than 140 of the dogs were taken by a handful of local rescue/adoption groups from the residence on Candies Creek Road SW, Lassiter said.

She said the Humane Society has reached out to those groups to offer supplies and support for their efforts, Lassiter said.

Rebecca Vanmeter, owner of the puppy business, was charged late last week with one count of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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