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ASPCA Managing Operations in Tennessee Puppy Mill Investigation

Forensics & Disaster Response Teams, Mobile CSI Unit Dispatched to Collect Evidence
February 11, 2009

NEW YORK – The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), under the authority and request of the White County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Department, is managing operations in the investigation of a local puppy mill where 250 dogs were seized today.

The ASPCA is recovering and evaluating dogs found at the site and collecting evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case. The ASPCA is also lending a special forensic cruelty investigation team that includes Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics, Jeff Eyre, the ASPCA’s Director of Field Operations, and Bob Baker, an ASPCA investigator.  More than a dozen other ASPCA disaster response and legislative professionals are on site, along with the ASPCA’s “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” a critical tool in the collection and processing of evidence at crime scenes.

“We appreciate the diligence of the White County Sheriff’s Department in pursuing this case and are pleased to be able to lend our assistance, both in terms of human resources and equipment, in our ongoing fight against animal cruelty,” said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres. “Along with our dedicated staff of professionals, the ASPCA’s Mobile Animal CSI unit is an important component in this effort, as it offers the ability to work on-site with the necessary tools, allowing evidence to be processed more accurately and efficiently.”

250 dogs were discovered in the raid, which took place early Wednesday morning.  The dogs were housed in a residence and multiple buildings on the property.

Animals in critical condition were examined immediately on the scene and in the ASPCA’s CSI unit, which operates under the leadership of Dr. Merck and brings both state-of-the-art forensics tools and unmatched expertise to crime scenes. The specially-designed vehicle is also outfitted with medical equipment tailored for animal patients.  Animals needing emergency care are being transferred to local veterinarians who lent their services.

The dogs are under the official custody of the White County Sheriff’s Department and are being transported to a nearby emergency shelter staffed by the American Humane Association (AHA). Other organizations assisting in the animal recovery effort include the Nashville Humane Association, several local veterinarians, and PetSmart Charities, which provided the majority of sheltering supplies and an emergency relief vehicle.

The dogs are small breeds under 20 pounds and include Boston and Jack Russell terriers, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, poodles, miniature Pinschers and Schnauzers. According to Dr. Merck, the dogs are suffering from a general lack of husbandry, such as little to no food or water, lack of proper ventilation in enclosed areas, and feces encrusted pens. Conditions such as matting, sores, mange, poor teeth, abscesses, and a host of other medical conditions are prevalent. 

The investigation was set into motion last September, when a consumer who had visited the property to purchase a dog alerted the White County Humane Society reporting horrible conditions. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which had also received complaints, alerted the sheriff’s department, and a formal investigation began. The sheriff’s department then enlisted the ASPCA’s support for the operational phase of the case.

The HSUS and ASPCA are partnering in an effort to support legislation in Tennessee to regulate puppy mills and protect consumers. Last week, a consumer protection bill addressing puppy mills was introduced in the Senate by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson), and proposed companion legislation in the House of Representatives is scheduled to be introduced this week by Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) and Janis Sontany (D-Nashville).

“Puppy mills are substandard commercial breeding operations that house dogs in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization,” said Sayres. “We want to see this cruelty come to an end.”

The ASPCA’s “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” the nation’s first, was unveiled in December 2007. A “forensics first,” the “Animal CSI” vehicle was created to significantly advance the prosecution of animal cruelty and help strengthen cases against offenders by incorporating the emerging field of veterinary forensics in crime scene investigations.  It also provides a proven chain of custody for law enforcement, thus ensuring the integrity of the evidence, and helps reduce the stress placed on the animals that are the innocent “collateral victims.”

For more information about puppy mills and how to fight animal cruelty, visit www.aspca.org.