McDONALD, Tenn. - A 911 call gave the first hint that countless numbers of dogs were living in squalor on a breeder's property.
Debra Singleton is divorcing her husband and was attempting to leave her in-laws' residence, where she had been living, but called Bradley County 911 on Wednesday morning to report that the in-laws had locked her out before she could get all her stuff packed into her car.
"Says hundreds of dogs on the property," the 911 report states. "Says that is one reason for her divorce because she is having to live in these conditions."
There were dead and sick dogs everywhere on the property at 1420 Candies Creek Road SW, Singleton told 911.
No dead animals were reported by the Bradley County Sheriff's Office or SPCA of Bradley County. But they did find more than 240 dogs kept in feces-covered pens and kennels -- sometimes stacked on top of other kennels, said Detective Brandon Edwards.
The kennels were a "petri dish" for disease because of feces, urine and standing water, said Charles Brown, director of the Pet Placement Center in Red Bank. The center was one of the first animal welfare organizations to respond to SPCA's call for assistance on Wednesday.
"We took 20 of the most critical animals, who suffered from mange and staph infections," Brown said.
An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for Rebecca Vanmeter, owner of the dogs, and she was taken into custody and charged with one count of cruelty to animals. She was freed after posting a $500 bond, said Bob Gault, spokesman for the sheriff's office.
On Friday, Vanmeter, 56, refused to comment on the situation.
"Ms. Vanmeter stated that she had several dogs returned to her from other breeders and it began to be more than she could handle," Edwards said in the complaint affidavit, which was filed Thursday evening.
In Edwards' report, Vanmeter describes herself as a dog breeder. On her Facebook page, she says she is the owner of Queen Elizabeth Pocket Beagle and Bear Puppies.
Representatives of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County have said the dogs were kept in "wretched" conditions.
Of the 247 dogs found on the property, more than half have been removed by rescue agencies, said Beth Foster, media coordinator for the SPCA, in an email Friday.
She said 112 dogs remain on the property under the care of the SPCA until a temporary shelter is established by the Humane Society of the United States at the old Family Dollar building in Charleston, Tenn.
Brown said the animals under his facility's care require extensive veterinary treatment before they can be adopted. Some could be available in a few weeks; others may take two months.
"This situation helps bring focus to the need for stronger legislation, because anybody can just set up a puppy mill," he said. "Under current laws and ordinances, animals are simply treated as property. We need laws with some teeth."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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