ASPCA Assists in Tennessee's Largest-Ever Puppy Mill Raid

Dispatches Forensics Team, Mobile CSI Unit for Triage of Sick & Injured Animals
June 26, 2008

NEW YORK, June 26, 2008—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is assisting in Tennessee’s largest-ever puppy mill raid of more than 700 dogs, lending a special forensic cruelty investigation team that includes two forensic veterinarians, as well as its "Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit," a critical tool in the collection and processing of evidence at crime scenes.

“We 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. “The ASPCA team is helping in all aspects of the recovery, collection, storage and documentation of animal evidence at the site. 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.”

The ASPCA team was deployed at the request of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which led the raid, to assist in the collection of evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case. The team includes the ASPCA’s Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation’s premier forensic veterinarian and “animal CSI,” Dr. Ellen Hirschberg, and five disaster response team experts— the ASPCA’s Sandy Monterose, Allison Cardona, Felicia Earley, Eric Lee and Chris Fagan—and volunteer veterinarian Dr. Solvieg Evans.

The 747 animals discovered in the raid, which began early yesterday, were housed in various enclosures among the property’s 92 acres of hilly and rocky terrain known as Pine Bluff Kennels in Lyles, Tennessee. The farm’s owner could face criminal charges.

According to Dr. Merck, the majority of the animals are dogs, including more than 200 puppies, 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, broken limbs, hernias, abscesses, and a host of other medical conditions are prevalent.  Breeds observed include basset hounds, Jack Russell terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, boxers, Chow-Chows, dachshunds, Shih tzus, German shepherds, border terriers, shar-peis, pugs, Yorkshire terriers, and Great Danes. Other animals on the property include horses, burros, miniature horses, chickens, goats, parrots and purebred cats.

“This is by far one of the worst situations I have ever seen,” said Dr. Merck. “Animals are in extreme cases of neglect and illness, and some are dead. The overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, flea and parasite infestation, as well as the stress of competing for food and coping with untreated illnesses, is severe.”

Animals in critical condition were examined immediately on 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 at the facility are in the official custody of the HSUS and are being transported to a nearby emergency shelter. They are expected to be placed in shelters and placed up for adoption. Many of the other animals, including livestock, are in temporary foster care.

The rescue was set into motion by the HSUS’ Tennessee state director who received undercover tips and worked with investigators with the District Attorney’s office for the 21st Judicial District to build a case against the puppy mill operator. Law enforcement personnel from the Hickman County Sheriff’s Department, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the 21st Judicial District Drug Task Force and the Tennessee Highway Patrol assisted in executing the search warrant. Other organizations assisting in the rescue included the Humane Society of Missouri, the Nashville Humane Society, High Forest Humane Society, Hickman County Humane Society, Tampa Bay SPCA and many others. 

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.”

“Puppy mills are nothing but large-scale, 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.”

For more information about puppy mills and how to fight animal cruelty, visit