My first thought when I started reading about the puppy mill bust in Hickory, North Carolina last month was: Oh no. Here we go again.
Authorities removed 276 dogs, some of whom had serious infections and almost all of whom were crammed into filthy cages, stacked one on top of one, other from Mason Creek Kennels, an operation run by Bill Thomas Allen, in the northwest corner of the state. The similarities to the puppy mill I wrote about in Saving Gracie didn’t stop there.
Like the dogs at Michael Wolf’s Mike-Mar Kennel in Upper Oxford, Penn., where Gracie and 332 other dogs languished, the North Carolina dogs were mired in their own feces, their paws tender and sore from having stood on wire cages their entire lives. The cages were so small the dogs had trouble turning around.
Many of the dogs had teeth so rotten they were decayed down to their jaws. A French bulldog named Jack had a hernia so advanced his bladder and colon came through his torn flesh. Another French bulldog had parasites and fungus so severe her ear canal was swollen shut. Somehow, those dogs had managed to survive. When officials arrived at the scene the carcasses of two other dogs lay there in plain view. The week before the raid, Allen turned over 37 dogs in such bad shape they had to be euthanized.
Like Mike-Mar Kennel, Allen’s Mason Creek Kennels had a website guaranteeing the health of the Yorkies, Pomeranians, Boston terriers and French bulldogs it was peddling. It boasted a “brand-new state of the art facility … designed ideally for the rearing of happy, healthy, exercised and socialized adult canines and puppies.” Allen bragged about having 28 years of experience as a dog breeder and assured readers that his puppies were AKC certified. Of course, if you’ve read my book you know that AKC certification doesn’t guarantee diddly.
In the weeks since, North Carolina newspapers have been full of stories about the Mason Creek dogs. That’s because at least five shelters in North Carolina and Virginia have taken in the ailing dogs, then had to rely on the generosity of hundreds if not thousands of animal lovers to provide donations, supplies and the kind of care needed to turn these dogs’ lives around. The same thing happened when Gracie’s kennel was busted in 2006.
Allen goes to court this week on 104 misdemeanor animal cruelty charges and two charges of failing to dispose of dead dogs. A diabetic who gets around in a wheelchair, he’s blaming his employees for failing to take care of the dogs (even though a number of the dogs, including Jack, lived in Allen’s home).
By last week, things were looking up. A number of the dogs had been adopted out to new homes. And a shell-shocked public has responded in droves, asking how they can help.
They can help by lobbying their state legislators to pass a law cracking down on egregious breeders. Twice North Carolina’s legislature has rebuffed such measures.
Three young girls from Durham — Jen and Elizabeth Spores and Alex Middleton — are circulating a petition that would impose tougher laws on commercial kennels, requiring outdoor exercise and bigger cages for dogs. It’s obvious to these girls, and to many North Carolinians, that an overhaul is needed. The state’s lawmakers need to wake up and smell the ammonia-pierced fumes and tackle a problem the public is demanding they solve.