On May 28, the ASPCA confirmed through the Marshall County Prosecutor's Office that 96 charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty were filed against the owners of a Holly Springs, Mississippi puppy mill where the ASPCA managed the investigation and seizure of more than 100 animals. The dogs, including small breeds such as Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Corgis and Chihuahuas, were found housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect—skin disease, rotted teeth, malnutrition and various other infections were rampant. Several dead adult dogs and puppies were also discovered on the property.
"We appreciate the diligence of the Marshall County Prosecutor's Office in pursuing this case and bringing appropriate charges against these puppy mill operators," says Tim Rickey, the ASPCA Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response. "It's a crucial step in our ongoing fight against animal cruelty."
Our team of investigators worked closely with local authorities to collect evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case and provide for the animals' immediate needs. Also on scene were the American Humane Association, Marshall County Humane Society, Mississippi State University and Collierville (TN) Humane Society, who assisted in transporting the animals to a nearby emergency shelter. The animals were triaged by a team of veterinarians including Dr. Rebecca Coleman, Dr. Phil Bushby, a faculty member at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Kimberly Woodruff, also with Mississippi State.
"The officials and citizens of Marshall County appreciate the expertise and work of the ASPCA, as well as the other agencies, veterinarians and volunteers that helped save the animals from this deplorable puppy mill," says Shirley Byers, Marshall County Prosecuting Attorney. "Without their expertise and resources we would not have been able to handle the recovery, treatment and placement of so many animals."
The animals have since been transported to various animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA Adoption Center, where a lucky 34 were ultimately made available for adoption.
Earlier this week, the Office of the Inspector General released a report detailing the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) lax and ineffective enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against licensed large-scale dog breeders and brokers known as puppy mills. As part of the investigation, auditors visited 81 facilities and reviewed records documenting 28,443 violations over a two-year period.
The report concludes that despite regular inspections, breeders were allowed to continue operating facilities where dogs lived in inhumane conditions—cages overflowing with pools of urine and feces, food laden with dead cockroaches, and dogs infested with ticks and unattended injuries including a mutilated leg and other atrocities—all without penalty. Furthermore, in cases of severe neglect and abuse, inspectors failed to confiscate the animals. At one Oklahoma mill, despite discovering five dead dogs and others who had resorted to cannibalism due to starvation, investigators took no action. This resulted in the deaths of 22 more dogs. The ASPCA is saddened by the findings, but we are not surprised.
The ASPCA has been painfully aware of the cruel conditions to which dogs are regularly subjected at the hands of puppy mill operators who put profit above providing the most basic standards of care. "Puppy mills are a primary focus of the ASPCA's anti-cruelty initiatives," says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives. "The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team has rescued countless dogs from puppy mills and aided in the prosecution of their owners." This past February, the ASPCA rescued more than 95 severely underweight dogs from a puppy mill in Holly Springs, MS—the animals were being housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect.
In addition to our nationwide investigations, the ASPCA supports landmark legislation, including the Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. "This is a groundbreaking citizens' initiative aimed at drastically improving the lives of dogs in Missouri kennels," explains Menkin. With an estimated 3,000 puppy mills in the state, Missouri has rightly come to be known as the Puppy Mill Capital of America.
"While the ASPCA commends the Office of the Inspector General for its detailed audit, we hope the findings will lead to stronger, more consistent enforcement by the USDA, more federal funding to increase the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, and ultimately, more humane conditions for the dogs," says Menkin.
Great news, animal advocates: Connecticut Senate Bill 274, legislation to prohibit the dangerous and inhumane chaining/tethering of dogs, proved victorious in the final hours of the state’s legislative session, passing overwhelmingly in both the Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 4. SB 274 addresses some of the worst aspects of dog chaining.
“Passage of SB 274 was necessary because Connecticut’s cruelty law has been insufficient to remedy the abuses of dog chaining,” explains Debora Bresch, Esq., of the ASPCA Government Relations Department. “It is imperative that dogs not be forced to suffer on short, tangled chains, trapped in ill-fitting collars, or otherwise be exposed to risk of strangulation or injury. Endangering dogs in this way is inhumane and, tragically, can make them aggressive, transforming our best friend into a public safety hazard.”
SB 274 will now go to Governor Rell for her approval. Once it lands on her desk, the Governor has 15 days to either veto SB 274 or sign it into law—if she chooses to do nothing, the bill will become law by default.
After the hard-fought battle in the legislature to get SB 274 this far, we must ensure that the bill is not vetoed and actually becomes law—so if you’re a Connecticut resident, please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center to email Governor Rell and politely urge her to sign SB 274 into law.
As always, we encourage animal lovers to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to receive important, timely news about pending animal-related legislation in their states and in Congress.
UPDATE: Congratulations, Connecticut! Governor Rell has signed the anti-tethering bill into law. Public Act No. 10-100—formerly SB 274—will prohibit the dangerous and inhumane chaining/tethering of dogs. The new law goes into effect on October 1. Read it here.
On May 12, at the Third Annual Veterinary Forensics Conference in Orlando, FL, the ASPCA unveiled our newest mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) response vehicle, a 2010 Subaru Outback generously donated by Subaru of America, Inc. The Outback is customized specifically for our Veterinary Forensics team, and will help support and expand the work we are able to do with our Mobile Animal CSI Unit, a state-of-the-art laboratory on wheels.
The new CSI response vehicle will be used for field work to transport animal victims, store evidence from crime scene investigations and provide access to areas that are typically off-limits due to challenging terrain. It is outfitted with many unique features, including a slide-out cargo floor, evidence refrigerator, laptop computer station and exterior power outlets. The vehicle will be based in Gainesville, FL, with Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics.
Dr. Merck is one of nation’s premiere forensic veterinarians and often provides expert testimony in animal cruelty trials around the country. In 2007, she was instrumental in assisting with the recovery and analysis of forensics from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels—work that helped to produce evidence that led to a guilty plea. With the addition of the ASPCA’s custom CSI vehicle, Dr. Merck can continue to do her essential work and ensure that perpetrators of animal cruelty receive proper punishment.
Action Tip: Want to help crack down on cruelty in your community? Get to know your local animal control officer! Search our database of nearly 3,000 community SPCAs, humane societies and animal control organizations to find the person responsible for enforcing animal cruelty laws in your area.
On May 14, investigators from the SPCA Serving Erie County charged Beth Hoskins with 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after 73 horses, 53 cats and four dogs were found living in deplorable conditions on her Erie County farm.
"These are definitely some very serious charges," says Jeff Eyre, ASPCA's Northeast Director of Field Investigations and Response. "But it's important to remember that each animal involved was a life that was abused."
Eyre was one of several members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team deployed this past March to assist in what has been declared the area's largest farm animal rescue ever. For more than two months, the Team oversaw the sheltering and care of 74 Morgan-type horses recovered from the scene. The Team also played a vital role in nurturing the abused equines, who eventually regained confidence and trust.
"I can remember the first days after the rescue, when the horses would react to us with horror and fear. They were emaciated, dirty and their manes full of tangles and mats," says Eyre. "Today, these healthy animals can be gently walked with a halter lead and approach humans with interest and affection—that is a huge difference."
On April 30, the ASPCA's task came to a close, as the remaining horses were transported to new foster homes. "We achieved our goal to rehabilitate these horses, both physically and behaviorally," reports Eyre. "These are now happy horses, and I could not have asked for a better ending."
According to Eyre, the Team's next step is to prepare a report that documents the poor physical conditions the equines were found in, as well as their deplorable living conditions, and follows the improvements they have made since rescue.
While Hoskins' attorney maintains his client's innocence, the accused is scheduled for arraignment on May 26 in Aurora town court. To date, the total cost of the investigation, including animal care, has exceeded $110,000.