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June 26, 2008

Uncaged

Last week, our Emergency Services team was in Iowa responding to the floods. There's no rest for the weary, though. Over the weekend, they deployed to Tennessee, as part of a carefully planned response to a human-caused disaster of very significant proportions. Joined by dozens of staff from several HSUS departments and more than 50 individuals from other organizations, our rescue team is carrying out the largest puppy mill bust in Tennessee history, removing nearly 700 dogs who had been living in intensive confinement and suffering in cramped and squalid cages (see video from the scene).

Our Tennessee State Director Leighann McCollum set this operation into motion and has been working with local authorities and District Attorney Kim Helper for six weeks to build a case against this reckless puppy mill operator.

Scotlund Haisley, our senior director of Emergency Services and the Indiana Jones of animal protection, is leading the rescue efforts in Lyles, Tenn. and provides this report.


Yorkie dog rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee
© The HSUS/Michelle Riley
One of the dogs who will be rescued.

For two days we assembled hundreds of crates and organized tons of supplies in an effort to prepare for the influx of rescued dogs. But we were unable to prepare ourselves for the sight that awaited us at the puppy mill. The smell of urine and feces reached us long before we could even see the animals.

Nearly 450 dogs were living in row after row of tiny hutches stacked in an overgrown field. These animals had no protection from the elements and many of the dogs’ legs were entangled in the grates of their wire cages. Approximately 250 female dogs and their puppies were also being kept in deplorable conditions inside a trailer on the property. None of these animals were being properly fed and 90 percent of them had no water.

As we came upon the dogs they let out a volley of excited but nervous barking that carried across the property. But as we approached this canine factory farm the dogs pressed themselves up against the bars with their tails wagging furiously. Despite years of neglect and abuse, these animals still yearn for human affection. 

It is heartbreaking to see such innocent life mistreated in this way. Many of the dogs were lying in piles of their own feces with untreated wounds ranging from broken bones to deep lacerations. One Yorkie was so matted that her tangled coat was twice the size of her frame and she couldn’t move her legs because they were so constricted by fur.

It will be no easy feat rescuing hundreds of mistreated animals and giving them the care they need. We will have to work around the clock for several days to remove them from the property. But I know that we will not rest until all of these dogs have been safely transported to our emergency shelter for veterinary care and evaluation. While I am dirty and dog-tired, I couldn't be happier to be among these animals and helping to deliver them to a new and hopeful chapter in their lives.

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