When Licking County Humane Agent Paula Evans responded to a call about a minivan full of dogs, she couldn’t believe what she discovered. As she pulled up to the Hebron, Ohio, motel parking lot where the van had stalled, the seasoned animal rescuer couldn’t hide her shock.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Evans tells USA TODAY. “Of everything I’ve done as a humane agent and in animal rescue, nothing has affected me like this. These animals don’t deserve it.”
Inside the small minivan, from the floor to the ceiling, were crates stuffed full of Rottweilers, Poodles, Shih Tzus, Boxers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Boston Terriers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Spaniels, and dogs of other breeds.
Evans describes the inside of the minivan as a tangled, haphazard maze of cages and dogs, dogs who were in deplorable condition, covered in their own waste. One small crate held Eddie, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a Rottweiler, a Lab, and another large dog.
“They shoved dogs in regardless of breeds and sizes,” Evans says of the dogs’ former owners. “They just started shoving.”
In all, a whopping 61 dogs — 49 adults and 12 puppies — were crammed into a van designed to seat six people. And before they were seized, the poor dogs had spent nearly a full 24 hours in that minivan.
A little digging led investigators to the dogs’ owner — Country Boys Pets LLC, an Indiana breeder with past USDA violations for incomplete buyer information, undocumented dogs, and improper transport, WISHTV 8 reports. During the last inspection of their breeding operation in August 2013, the agency cited Country Boys for shipping puppies less than 8-weeks-old and for transporting dogs in travel enclosures that lacked the minimum required space. Health certificates were also missing for some of the dogs at the Country Boys facility, a serious infraction.
The 61 dogs recovered from the van in Saturday’s rescue were on their way from the breeding facility in Williamsburg, Ind., when the minivan broke down. The owner of Country Boys, Jonas Fisher, then reached out to the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF) of the Hamptons, who dispatched a mobile rescue unit to Licking County. Fisher subsequently surrendered the dogs.
But ARF was only equipped to take in 25 of the dogs, so the remaining 24 adult dogs and 12 puppies are now under the care of the Licking County Humane Society (LCHS).
LCHS Executive Director Lori Carlson says that many of the female dogs rescued had been used for breeding and had given birth to litters multiple times. Carlson says that is just one of the many telltale signs that the rescued dogs came from a puppy mill. The dogs pace frantically, frightened of everything, especially people. Their feet are damaged from living in wire kennels.
“They are scared,” she says, “they are just terrified. They have probably never been on leashes. They’ve never had treats. They are not used to people being nice to them.”
Veterinarian Dr. Joanna Reen examined the dogs and found a number of health issues. When Dr. Reen completes her examinations and reports, humane agent Evans plans to submit the findings and collected evidence to the Licking County Prosecutor’s Office and the USDA, meaning that Jonas Fisher could face some serious charges. And because the animals were being transported across state lines, Fisher could face federal criminal charges.
This isn’t the first time rescues in the area, including LCHS, have been inundated with dogs rescued from high volume breeders.
“Local humane societies are experiencing a significant burden from these high volume breeders that are coming from out of state,” Carlson tells NBC 4 News. Her shelter has taken in more than 75 dogs from puppy mills in the past three months alone.
Evans says the number one way to help dogs like these is to help put puppy mills out of business. If the mill operators aren’t getting money for their product, they will be forced to shut down.
“Don’t buy a dog from a pet store unless it’s affiliated with the local animal shelter or humane society,” she urges.
As for the rescued dogs, Carlson says they are recuperating and learning to trust people.
“They will come around,” she says. “It will take time and patience, but they will figure it out that people can bring good things, too.”
Once they get the all-clear from the veterinarian and the prosecutor’s office, some of the dogs could be up for adoption in as little as 10 days.
If you would like to help the 61 dogs and puppies rescued from the minivan Saturday, please consider making a donation to the organizations currently caring for them: the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons and the Licking County Humane Society. For more information about what you can do to help put a stop to puppy mills, visit the Puppy Mills Project website.