Fifty-six dogs hidden under dirty, matted fur and exhausted from poor living conditions arrived at the Humane Society of Charlotte on Thursday night.
The dogs, who workers said had likely never been inside a house, received food, water, blankets and love from staff members.
On Friday, the veterinary staff took time to groom and give medical attention to each animal, including heartworm medication and dental cleanings.
One dog, a 4-year-old Lhasa Apso named Lorelei by the veterinary staff, had a 2-pound mat of fur on her back leg that was nearly as large as her body. After 30 minutes of basic grooming, she weighed 4 pounds less and could wag her tail again.
“This is pretty close to the worst (case) I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Judi Vogt, the Charlotte shelter’s veterinarian.
On Monday, acting on a tip, animal control officers visited a Rutherford County home and saw the dogs. When they returned Wednesday, the dogs had been separated, with only seven still at the house, according to police. Authorities found the remaining 49dogs on Thursday at multiple locations.
About 30 of the animals will stay at the Humane Society shelter in Charlotte, with the rest going to partnering rescue organizations. Some may be ready for adoption soon, while others will need foster care, said Jorge Ortega, vice president of operations at the Humane Society.
“Thirty foster families are on deck,” he said. The families will go through training to learn the benefits and challenges of foster care, as well as how to care for the animals. The dogs will spend about two weeks with them rehabilitating, then return to the shelter to be adopted.
Puppy mill problems
Puppy mills mass breed, which critics say leads to neglect. Some dogs are used for breeding and given minimal care to stay alive, while the puppies are sold quickly for profit. The animals usually have never been groomed.
“They forget about basic care of the dogs and focus on the money piece of it,” Ortega said. “A reputable breeder doesn’t produce numerous litters a year and they really care about the breed and the dogs.”
Puppy mill dogs often have extreme fur matting from lack of grooming, space and a clean environment. They also frequently have skin infections, eye problems and blindness, ear infections, heartworms and fleas, Vogt said.
“It’s just not fair when it’s this bad,” she said. “It’s painful for them.”
‘Harmful to animals’
Puppy mills are not a new problem in the Carolinas.
In March, 60 dogs were found at a property south of Statesville. Last August, 153 animals were taken from a location in Anderson County.
The N.C. Senate is deliberating a bill that passed the House in May 2013 that would establish basic humane conditions for breeding businesses with 10 or more female dogs.
First lady Ann McCrory has campaigned for the legislation, saying in a statement last July: “Our state has become a magnet and safe haven for bad puppy-mill operators that are harmful to animals, and they are impacting responsible breeders, animal shelters and our communities.”
The Charlotte shelter is documenting the treatment process with photos and videos to send to the national Humane Society and Rutherford authorities. Charges are pending against the dog owner as they wait for evidence.