Rescue Diary: Lyles, Tennessee

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Rescue Diary: Lyles, Tennessee

June 23-29, 2008
Lyles, TN
By Felicia Earley, ASPCA Forensic Veterinary Assistant

In late June 2008, the ASPCA assisted in Tennessee’s largest-ever puppy mill raid. We were proud to assist with our special cruelty investigation team that included Felicia Earley, who shares her experiences here.

Day 1

Felicia Early and puppy

I stayed in our Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit for most of the hectic first day of the puppy mill raid. As members of the ASPCA Disaster Response Team, veterinarian Dr. Ellen Hirshberg, Mobile Medical Unit Manager Chris Fagan, and I saw the animals most in need of medical attention.

Almost every dog from Pine Bluff Kennels was rail thin, matted and dirty, with horrid teeth and very long nails. They all smelled strongly of urine and feces. A few were in need of immediate emergency medical attention. We had a dachshund who had difficulty breathing and had to be put on oxygen. I found out later that she has severe tissue damage in her lungs. I shudder to think of what her life must have been like in the southern heat with breathing issues. We also saw a basset hound who had been lying in the sun and dirt, in labor, for an unknown length of time. The emergency vet said her puppies were stuck, and we all know what fate she might have met if left unassisted.

rescued dogs

With all the dogs we met, I cannot recall an aggressive one. They all seemed very scared, but I never heard a growl or saw any teeth bared. At the end of the day, when we saw that there were still so many dogs we were going to have to leave onsite overnight, I helped make sure the ones left behind had plenty of food and water until our return. This is when I met an amazing Boston terrier who stole my heart. For anyone who has ever known a Boston, you know how energetic, lovable and bouncy they can be! I went into the pen that was home to three Bostons—two males and one female. The female seemed pretty young and was intrigued by the large bucket of water I carried. I put food down and filled their empty water bowl. The males hid in fetal positions in a far corner of the cage. The female ran around in circles, bouncing and coming close to me as if she wanted to let me touch her, but fear kept her away. When she realized there was water in her bowl, she jumped into it like a kid in a Disney World swimming pool! She then went back to bouncing around me, trying to decide whether she trusted me enough to let me pet her. She never did, but what a wonderful dog!

dog in a cage

When we went back to the staging area that night, we found that the dirty old tire factory had been amazingly transformed, by a wonderful group of people, into a haven for all these neglected animals—dogs, cats, birds, even horses and goats! I absolutely love all animals of any species or breed, but boxers are the ones who touch me the most. My first dog—and best friend ever—was a boxer named Lily. As I walked through this overwhelming shelter looking at the rows and rows of tired, full-bellied, thankful dogs, I made eye contact with a boxer who reminded me of my deceased best friend. She had the same beautiful brindle colors and the same saggy lips and droopy ears as Lily when she didn’t get her way. It was at that point that the full magnitude of what was going on hit my heart, and a lump the size of Texas hit my throat. I sat down and petted the boxer. At first she seemed unsure of what the rubs were on her head and chest, but she quickly realized how great they felt, rested her head in my hand and fell asleep. The tremendous love in my heart made the smells of dirt and neglect seem like the scent of roses. I knew it wouldn’t be long before these dogs were clean, and I hoped they knew that life would never be like that again.

Day 2

On the second day at the scene, we finished up the heart-wrenching exams and all the animals were removed with enough time for me to take a quick ride around the entire 92 acres of the puppy mill. My heart broke and my breath was stolen. I saw the small pen with only a two-by-four board for shelter where the beautiful boxer I met the day before had lived, along with all the other boxers. The pen was surrounded by snake-filled shrubs. Beyond a patch of forest was another clearing with the same small pens—these had housed German shepherds and Newfoundlands. Sporadically throughout the property we saw groupings of rabbit hutches encrusted with piles and piles of feces that had each housed four to eight small dogs. At certain times of the day, the rabbit hutches had very little to no shade from the smoldering southern sun. Those were the homes of the breeding dogs. The puppy trailer was no better, with its rotted-out floors and feces-filled cages.

Day 3 and Beyond

For the few days after the two days spent removing the animals from the scene, people from many different organizations with the same compassion all worked so hard to make sure each animal was examined. We wanted to be sure that in the future, a judge, a jury, and the woman responsible would understand the horrid conditions these animals were in.

These days were mentally and physically hard on everyone, but I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. On the last day, when we saw the temporary shelter empty out as the animals were taken by shelters from around the country, an immense feeling that is impossible to explain came all over us. I sleep easier now knowing that 747 fewer animals in this world are hurting for love, food and proper conditions. I thank the ASPCA and everyone involved for blessing me with the opportunity to have been a part of that! Well over 700 beings will sleep well tonight with full stomachs—and wake up to knowing, loving hands.

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