by Max Brantley
The ASPCA said the dogs had been neglected and were living "in feces-encrusted pens and deplorable conditions."
The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), at the request of the Garland County Sheriff’s Office, is managing the evidence collection and sheltering of more than 100 dogs living in a substandard commercial breeding facility—commonly known as a puppy mill—in Hot Springs, Ark., approximately 55 miles southwest of Little Rock. The operation is being supported by responders from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), PetSmart Charities, Inc. and Garland County Humane Society.
A search warrant was executed Monday morning for the removal of the dogs, and the animals are being transported to a nearby emergency shelter where they will receive medical care and treatment. The ASPCA is also collecting evidence for the investigation as well as lending the services of its veterinary forensics teams, led by Dr. Rhonda Windham, medical director of the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team. The owner of the puppy mill facility, Pam Thomas, has been arrested and charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty.
“The ASPCA has been invaluable in the coordination, investigation, processing and forensic evidence collection of the endangered and mistreated animals,” said Lieutenant James Martin of the Garland County Sheriff’s Office. “The successful completion of this operation would not have taken place without their experience, resources and expertise, as the magnitude of this operation is beyond the capabilities of Garland County resources.”
“The ASPCA is pleased to be in a position to lend our assistance and help the Garland County Sheriff’s Office put an end to abusive puppy mills in their community,” said Kathryn Destreza, director of Investigations for the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team. “Puppy mill dogs suffer from living in extremely unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization, and we appreciate the efforts of the local authorities in pursuing this investigation. Our goal is to help the local authorities by providing experts and resources to support the case, and see that these animals move on to a better place.”
Garland County Sheriff’s Investigator, Cpl. Angela Graybeal, began a criminal investigation in 2009 after allegations of health issues and charges had been brought against Ms. Thomas, owner of the Happy Times Kennel at 210 Barbershop Drive, also known as Rainbow Kennel and Spa City Pets, for violation of the Rabies Control Act.
During the two year investigation, Investigator Graybeal received numerous complaints regarding the living conditions, medical issues and mistreatment of more than 100 animals housed on the property. The Garland County Sheriff’s Office was able to determine that Thomas was operating a puppy mill through undercover visits and purchases, with support from the Garland County Humane Society, which connected investigators with the ASPCA for assistance.
The dogs—mainly small breeds such as Chihuahuas, West Highland white terriers, Boston terriers and dachshunds—were discovered living in feces-encrusted pens and deplorable conditions on the property. Many of the dogs exhibited various signs of neglect and appear to have severe skin problems and flea infestation, among other medical conditions.
The ASPCA is assessing and treating each animal by utilizing its fully equipped Northeast “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” a specially-designed vehicle outfitted with state-of-the-art forensics tools and medical equipment tailored for animal patients. Additionally, the ASPCA’s custom-built animal transport trailer is also being utilized to help transfer animals to the emergency shelter.
More than 30 responders are on the scene, including staff and volunteers from IFAW, which is providing sheltering services and assisting with evidence collection; PetSmart Charities, which is providing much-needed supplies and helping set up the emergency shelter; and volunteers from the Garland County Humane Society, who will be assisting with the daily care of the animals housed at the temporary shelter.
“Upon learning of the deplorable conditions these animals were subjected to, IFAW took immediate action to help protect them from further suffering,” said Shannon Walajtys, IFAW Emergency Relief officer. “IFAW works around the world to ensure that dogs live in healthy conditions and we are dismayed to encounter, yet again, such appalling conditions here in the U.S.”
“Our Emergency Relief Waggin’ program offers assistance to animal victims, like these dogs, who need immediate care and attention,” added Susana Della Maddalena, executive director of PetSmart Charities. “Some of these dogs will experience, for the first time, what it’s like to be well fed, clean and comfortable. Our hope is that the pets rescued from cruelty cases, low-quality breeders and hoarders can be rehabilitated and placed into the caring homes they deserve.”
Tim Rickey, senior director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response added, “With the support and collaboration of these agencies, the ASPCA is able to continue its life-saving work in the field. We truly appreciate our partnership with these national animal welfare groups to rescue animals like these from inhumane conditions.”
The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team has rescued countless dogs from puppy mills across the nation and aided in the prosecution of their owners. Furthermore, the ASPCA’s Government Relations department has been active in drafting and promoting legislation that would strengthen regulations and raise minimum standards of care for dogs in puppy mills, most recently in Texas and Pennsylvania. Additionally, the ASPCA launched a national “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness about the connection between puppy mills and pet stores.