Happy Tails: Caring Prosecutor, Community Shut Down Puppy Mill

Posted on November 28, 2006

Hundreds of dogs rescued from a puppy mill near Nashville, Tennessee, last fall are now finding permanent, loving homes, thanks to a joint effort and some extra work by the county prosecutor.  In October, more than 100 Sumner Country authorities, veterinarians, and volunteers from the local humane society arrived at the property of breeder Irene Meuser. They found 36 cats and hundreds of small dogs, including Chihuahuas, poodles, Shih Tzus, papillons, and Pomeranians living in squalid conditions.  

Many of the dogs were cramped together into cages so small they could not stand, and some had no food or water. The smell of urine and feces was so overwhelming that rescue workers donned ventilator masks. Dr. Bryan Bondurant, a local vet who had just moved his practice to a newer facility, made his old clinic available, giving rescuers an ideal location to bring the animals. Sadly, some dogs were so sick they had to be euthanized.

It is not uncommon for hoarding cases like this one to drag on for well over a year as owners battle with the courts to keep their animals and contest the charges. This means animals have a long wait before they can be adopted by caring members of the community. But thanks to the compassion and hard work of Sumner County Assistant District Attorney William Lamberth, this case was over in just four business days.

“This case was really exceptional,” says ALDF’s Leighann McCollum, who co-managed the shelter and was the shelter director for the infamous Woodley hoarding case in 2005. “Mr. Lamberth did an outstanding job on behalf of these animals, who are now learning what it’s like to play, sleep in comfort, and get nutritious meals.” Thanks to the dedication of veterinarians, all the animals were sterilized, except for a few who went to foster homes because they are new moms, pregnant, or too frail to withstand the surgery. Nutro Foods, meanwhile, donated 4,000 pounds of dog and cat food.

Almost all of the dogs on Meuser’s property were suffering from illness or injury, including parvo, respiratory diseases, bone injuries, and broken teeth.

“They were in buildings that were not heated in the winter or cooled in the summer,” says Tim Anschuetz, Sumner County Animal Control resource officer and head of the investigation authorities dubbed “Operation Animal Hope.” “We knew we needed to get them out of that environment. It was very important in light of the fact that cold weather is coming on.”

The Sumner County Sheriff’s Department charged Meuser, 69, with six counts of animal cruelty.  She pleaded guilty to four of the charges; the additional two counts were dropped, in a plea deal by which Meuser agreed to a lifetime ban on breeding cats and dogs for sale.  The court ordered her to pay the nearly $800 in fines and court costs and placed her on a two-year probation, during which random searches can be made of Meuser’s property, and any violations of the probation terms can result in jail time and additional fines. Although the penalties and probation period may seem short, the animals are now safe and Meuser will never be able to operate another puppy mill – a condition that may not have been possible without this settlement.

Major Don Linzy of the Sumner County Sheriff’s Department is full of praise for how the entire community has made this rescue a success. “That’s really the best thing,” he says. “Everyone who worked on this, the vets and other volunteers, put in hours and hours. There’s no way we could handle this on our own. Taking care of 300 dogs is more difficult than taking care of 600 prisoners!”

Dana Campbell, managing senior attorney of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, spoke with the prosecutor, who stressed the importance of getting the dogs placed as quickly as possible into good homes. Lamberth said more than a thousand people have inquired about adopting the rescued animals, and they have raised $30,000 through adoption fees – money that will help fund future rescues. He also asked about legislation that would require hoarders to post a bond to cover the costs of animal care from the time animals are seized until after trial. “Mr. Lamberth said he knew that if he turned to ALDF, we would be able to assist with model language for a bill introducing a cost-of-care bond procedure,” she says. These laws require that defendants who are accused of abusing animals pay a bond that gives financial support to the agencies caring for the animals. “We’ll also provide some research listing which other states have such a law already and make some other recommendations.”    

Thanks to the caring and dedication of many people, a puppy mill is out of business and hundreds of animals now have real homes.

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