Update April 18, 2008: After 6 1/2 hours of testimony on April 17, Judge David Motes in the forfeiture hearing "ordered that Jackson County may dispose of 270 dogs from that puppy mill as it desires, according to the law," said Cheryl McAuliffe, Georgia Director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The judge said the dogs could be sold. But McAuliffe believes it is likely the dogs will stay with the many rescue groups caring for them including LifeLine Animal Project http://www.atlantapets.org/, in Atlanta. Jackson County has four dogs the puppy millers claim are pets.
Proceeds from any sale would likely go to reimburse the rescue groups that have been caring for these dogs.
Judge Motes found the dogs were "objects of cruelty" and suffered unjustifiably. Indeed, state and county officials and 4 veterinarians testified about the horrible, filthy conditions in which the dogs lived and their many health problems. Dogs had actually starved to death and many suffered from defects probably from inbreeding as well as other conditions like broken bones, tumors, malnutrition, dehydration, sores, wounds, parasites, etc.
The judge cited the lack of veterinary care, food, adequate shelter and sanitation as the reasons for his decision.
McAuliffe added, "This is a precedent setting case which should serve as a warning to those who would factory farm dogs as cash crops in horrid conditions that Georgia will no longer tolerate this behavior."
The criminal charges remain pending against the mill owners. The state has shut down this mill, citing the owners, the Hughes, with 1450 violations. They face substantial fines as well.
Marie Hughes, one of the owners, has said she will appeal Judge Motes’ ruling and also the state’s suspension of her breeder’s and dealer’s licenses.
Read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below for more information about this case including how one teenager stepped up and shut down this mill, something the State and county had not done despite years of investigation.
Update April 4, 2008: Authorities seized and removed the remaining dogs from the puppy millers’ property.
A forfeiture hearing is set for April 17. In that action county animal control officers are asking a judge to terminate the puppy millers’ rights to the dogs. If the judge orders ownership rights to the dogs forfeited, they can be put up for adoption.
Charges were filed earlier against the owners of the puppy mill, L&D Farm and Kennel. Jennifer Marie Hughes, Ronnie Hughes, Marie Hughes and Brandy S. Stone were each charged with 5 felony and 55 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals. This for what authorities say is the largest seizure of dogs ever in Georgia.
The state Department of Agriculture has suspended the millers’ kennel license. The Department’s investigation is ongoing, but officials have already said it is unlikely the Hughes would be allowed to operate another commercial dog breeding business or puppy mill in Georgia. It is possible the millers’ could face fines up to $1 million.
It shows what one person can do. In this case a teenaged employee, Tiffani Butler, reported the abuse she saw at this mill. Her report led to the raid that has now shut down this mill. See Animal Law Coalition’s earlier report below for more information on what Tiffani’ saw at this mill.
Many of the dogs had already been removed and wereÂ in foster care. Several animal welfare organizations are helping with shelter and treatment for the dogs. As Animal Law Coalition reported below, the dogs are in dire need of veterinary and other care.
Rebecca Guinn, Director of LifeLine Animal Project, http://www.atlantapets.org/, observed, "Puppies sold by pet stores or online come from puppy mills like this. It is estimated anywhere from 25% to 1/3 of these dogs end up in shelters, adding to the overpopulation of homeless pets. If I could tell the public two things it would be don’t buy dogs from pet stores or online. Instead adopt a dog from a local shelter or rescue. Also, spay/neuter your pets."
LifeLine Animal Project is collecting and administering donations received for the housing and care of the Jackson County puppy mill dogs. Please help with donations. Go to http://www.atlantapets.org/ for more information.
LifeLine operates a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Atlanta and works to find homes for homeless animals that would otherwise end up euthanized in the public shelters. More than 80,000 animals were euthanized in the Atlanta public shelter in 2007.
Original report: Nineteen year old Tiffany Butler went to work for a commercial dog breeder in Jackson County, Georgia on February 18, 2008.
On February 19 Tiffany filed a Complaint with county authorities that has led to arrests and state and local authorities taking control of this puppy mill.
It goes to show it only takes one person to make a difference, to stop cruelty, to put a dent in the pet trade in which so many animals are trapped in misery.
In her complaint Tiffany says the first place she saw was the "puppy room", "the only clean room" where puppies are put "before a customer comes". Tiffany described that "cockroaches infest[ed] the walls". When she then went into the "puppy barn", sort of a birthing area, Tiffany could not breathe because of the stench. "It smelled horrible". Roaches were everywhere, even falling on her head. There was another room and a trailer that were also filled with dogs living in filthy, squalid conditions.
As she began cleaning, Tiffany noticed a shi-tzu dog that could not stand. The puppy had no energy. When Tiffany told "Jennifer", her supervisor, about the dog, Jennifer said she knew about the dog, that it had been that way for a few days. Jennifer said "it costs too much" to take the little dog to the vet. So the puppy was left to suffer.
Tiffany took the little shi-tzu home and fed him throughout the night. She also decided she must do something about this puppy mill. But, Tiffany explained in her complaint, "I had not seen the worst part."
The next day Tiffany saw a little puppy almost dead in its cage. She picked up the little guy, but he was not responsive to her efforts to revive him. Jennifer once again refused to get vet care because of the cost. Tiffany asked if they could at least humanely euthanize him. Jennifer responded, "We don’t want to do that either…because if he makes it, we will sell him."
Then Tiffany was driven to an area with rows of pit bulls that had no food or water. Their kennels were muddy, filled with waste. The dogs had open sores all over their bodies.
Tiffany saw a 6×6 cage filled with 10-20 dogs suffering from illness and open wounds.
Tiffany also saw horses that were starving. She could count their ribs.
Tiffany quit the $6.00 per hour job and filed her complaint. She still has the shi-tzu puppy.
After Tiffany filed her Complaint, the mill was raided by the State Department of Agriculture and Jackson County Animal Control. Authorities found dogs that were starving, sick and suffering from sores and injuries. One dog was dead in his cage. A team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians have examined the dogs.
The four puppy mill operators, owners Ronnie and Marie Hughes, Jennifer Hughes, and Brandy Stone, each face 5 felony and 55 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Jennifer and Brandy were jailed this past week but released on $35,000 bond each.
Curiously, as a condition of their bond, they are required to care for and report any deaths of the 300 dogs at the mill known as L&D Farm and Kennel in Nicholson, Georgia. Well, more than 300 now because many have given birth since then.
And the bond does not require the Hughes to stop the breeding. They can continue to operate the mill but the local animal control will make sure the place is clean and the animals are cared for. The Hughes will not be able to remove any of the dogs, though, at least at this time. Â They have been allowed to take some dogs to the vet since the raid.
The puppy mill has existed for years with these deplorable conditions. Jackson County Animal Control and the state Department of Agriculture were well aware of this mill’s conditions. The state had, in fact, cited Marie Hughes who holds the state license for the mill, several times over the years for violations of Georgia’s animal protection laws. It’s not clear the state ever inspected all of the buildings on the property. Tommy Irvin, Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, said he believed the state authorities had only visited some of the buildings.
In an unusual move the Jackson County Commission actually voted about whether to pursue charges. There was some discussion initially about asking the mill operators to give up their dogs and business in exchange for an agreement not to file charges. The Commission did decide to pursue charges. The prosecutor could have proceeded anyway with charges had the county commission pursued that agreement.
The Jackson County Humane Society initially was not allowed on the property. But volunteers and rescuers have since been welcomed to help care for and place the dogs. The humane society president, Angela Gosnell, has said the Society would help care for the dogs and find homes for any that are surrendered or obtained through forfeiture. And now a number of the dogs have been placed. If you can help, contact Angela Gosnell at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Humane Society has worked in recent years to start a spay/neuter fund to help low income pet owners. The society has worked to place animals in need of good homes. The society has urged the county to build an animal shelter.
Georgia’s Animal Protection Laws are found at O.C.G.A. §§4-11-1-17 and GA. Comp. R. & Regs. §§40-13-13-.01-.10. Copies are in Animal Law Coalition’s Laws.