In September 2008, an individual looking to purchase a dog visited a commercial breeder who lived off Lost Creek Road in Sparta, the county seat of White County, Tennessee. Alarmed by the horrible conditions of the animals living there, this person notified the White County Humane Society, which in turn contacted the White County Sheriff's Department. Led by Sheriff Oddie Shoupe, local authorities began a formal investigation, ultimately enlisting the ASPCA's support for the raid.
The raid began the morning of Wednesday, February 11. The ASPCA managed operations; other parties assisting in the rescue included American Humane Association (AHA), Nashville Humane Association and PetSmart Charities, which provided the majority of sheltering supplies and an emergency relief vehicle.
More than 285 small-breed dogs were recovered from multiple buildings on the Lost Creek Road property— these included Boston and Jack Russell terriers, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Poodles, Miniature Pinschers and Schnauzers. The dogs suffered from a general lack of basic care, such as little to no food or water, feces-encrusted pens and lack of proper ventilation in enclosed areas. Compromised health and conditions like matting, sores, mange, poor teeth and abscesses were widespread. Dogs in critical condition were examined immediately on the scene and in our Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit, which operates under the leadership of Dr. Melinda Merck, ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics. Animals who needed emergency care were transferred to local veterinarians who kindly lent their services.
Dr. Merck and the ASPCA's forensic cruelty investigation team, as well as members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, systematically evaluated dogs and collected evidence for criminal prosecution of the puppy mill's owners. Several of our legislative professionals also assisted at the site.
The breeder surrendered ownership of all the dogs to the White County Sheriff's Department, which then turned them over to the ASPCA. Over the next week, the births of several litters of puppies brought the total number of dogs up to 294. While ASPCA and AHA staff cared for the dogs in a temporary shelter, arrangements were made for batches of dogs to be transferred out of Sparta to humane agencies in Tennessee and several nearby states for continued care and eventual adoption.
Puppies Take Manhattan
On Tuesday, February 17, 43 dogs arrived at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City to be matched with loving New Yorkers and begin new lives. Thanks to a good amount of positive publicity in the local media, our puppy mill dog adoption hotline was ringing off the hook with people seeking information. Most of the Tennessee dogs were officially made available for adoption the following Friday.
"The scene at the ASPCA Adoption Center on Friday morning was nothing short of incredible," recalled Anita Edson, ASPCA Senior Director of Media & Communications. "Lines began to form outside the ASPCA well before sunrise, with eager adopters camping out with lawn chairs and blankets as early as 5:00 A.M.! The lobby was teeming—a mix of the bustling crowd and the equally excited Adoptions staff, all ready to help place the Tennessee dogs with the best possible matches." By the end of the day, more than 200 adoption forms had been filled out.
By the end of February, the 39 Tennessee dogs were claimed. They left for their new homes after being spayed or neutered, microchipped and given the final "okay" from our veterinarians. The more than 200 dogs whom the ASPCA entrusted to animal welfare groups based in other states did quite well, too, garnering their own share of media attention and admirers eager to provide them with loving homes.
Read one adopted dog's success story.
Partially as a result of the Sparta raid, a puppy mill bill that was already before the Tennessee General Assembly (in fact, it had been introduced just days before the raid) received a flood of support from Tennesseans and legislators alike. Sponsored in the Senate by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Janis Sontany (D-Nashville), SB 258/HB 386 passed the General Assembly nearly unanimously in mid-June. It was signed into state law by Governor Bredesen on July 8, 2009.
Called the Commercial Breeder Act, the new law (effective January 1, 2010) mandates the creation of a licensing and regulatory program to ensure that humane standards of care are met for dogs and cats in commercial breeding operations where 20 or more breeding female dogs or cats are kept and used to produce offspring for sale to the public. The act requires breeding facilities to keep proper records, obtain licenses and submit to annual inspections. It also requires breeders to operate as legitimate businesses by complying with state sales tax rules.
Kudos to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly for taking the issue of puppy mills seriously and for passing legislation that will protect both consumers and animals from unethical and inhumane breeding practices.
To learn more about the puppy mill industry, visit our Puppy Mill section.
The ASPCA wishes to thank the following organizations and individuals for their tremendous support during the recovery of more than 250 dogs from the Lost Creek Road puppy mill in White County, Tennessee. It goes without saying that a recovery effort of this magnitude would never happen without the collaboration, dedication and support of so many!
- White County Sheriff's Department, for their role in the investigation, on-scene support, and ongoing commitment to fighting animal cruelty
- American Humane Association, whose team went the extra mile in recovery as well as in our joint animal sheltering efforts
- Nashville Humane Association, for helping recover and shelter animals, and for taking 36 animals to their facility for adoption
- PetSmart Charities, for donating much-needed supplies, and Alan Schwartz
- Pedigree, for supplying dog food
- Humane Society of the United States, for their initial role in the investigation and coordination with local agencies
- White County Humane Society, for providing dinner to rescue teams the night of February 11
- White County Corrections inmates, who cleaned and did heavy lifting at the temporary shelter
- Humane Society of South Mississippi, for providing transportation for 43 animals to the ASPCA Adoption Center
- Charleston Animal Society, for taking 26 animals and sending Courtney Gumienny to Tennessee to assist
- Tailwaggers for Life, for sending its president, Charles Chaplin, to assist
- SPCA of Texas, for taking 100 dogs to Dallas and McKinney, TX, for adoption
- A Place to Bark in Portland, TN, for taking 28 dogs for adoption
And to the following rescue groups, which took a total of 25 dogs for adopting into new homes in their communities:
- DREAM Dachshund Rescue, Atlanta, GA
- South Paw Rescue, Gainesboro, TN
- All American Dachshund Rescue, Nashville, TN
The following Tennessee veterinarians and professionals were also tremendously helpful and lent their services to examine and treat animals found at the scene:
- Dr. Rebecca Coleman
- Dr. Louie Lembo
- Sloane Lembo
- Dr. Kathy Gates
- Dr. Jennifer Hamm
- Dr. Julia Adams
- Dr. Lucy Barrett
- Dr. Denton Colwell
- Ragland and Riley Veterinary Hospital in Cookeville
- Putnam Spay/Neuter Clinic
And of course, the ASPCA wishes to thank the good people of Sparta and Cookeville, TN, who could not have been more appreciative and hospitable during the recovery efforts.