03/22/09 — Dogs on the mend

View Archive

Dogs on the mend

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 22, 2009 2:00 AM

Full Size


Kitty McBride of Raleigh cuddles Lily, one of the dogs rescued recently in Wayne County from an alleged puppy mill.

Rain drizzled from a gray sky, but a crackling fire chased away the chill in Kitty McBride's Raleigh townhome as she curled on a couch with her three dogs.

It would be hard to guess that the little pack snuggled in front of the fireplace all had very different beginnings. Roxie, a 9-year-old Chihuahua, was rescued from a flea market. Doc, a 5-year-old Pomeran-ian, came from a responsible breeder. And their newest sister, a 5-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Lily, was seized from her original owner in the largest puppy mill raid in North Carolina history.

Lily is one of the nearly 300 dogs taken from Thornton Kennels in February, but today her slightly dingy fur is the only outward sign the small dog ever lived anywhere but the lap of luxury. And even that will be gone within the week, once the incision from her spay surgery heals and the vet clears her for a thorough grooming.

The Yorkie is among the very first of the dogs from the Wayne County puppy mill to find a "forever home," and although she is settling in well, her behavior sets her apart from her new brother and sister. Simple things that other dogs take for granted are completely new to Lily, as Ms. McBride discovered when she gave the Yorkie her very first dog toy.

"She was a little confused," Ms. McBride said. "She hasn't been a real big player, but I would guess that's something that will come with time."

Getting treats and playing tug-of-war are still new, too, and Lily never begs for table scraps, her owner said. And while Lily is good with children, it's more of an expression of her personality than from any sort of socialization or training.

"I don't know that she had ever seen a child before," Ms. McBride said. "My granddaughter loves her."

While Ms. McBride is learning a lot about her new dog's personality quirks, some of them are unhappy reminders of Lily's origins. She was not housetrained when she came home, as the dogs at Thornton Kennels were likely kept caged all the time.

"The potty training was an issue. She didn't know that in the beginning," Ms. McBride said.

And although Doc and Roxie are crate-trained, Lily gets the run of the family room while Ms. McBride is at work. The Yorkie doesn't like being alone, and is terrified of being in a cage.

"I can't put her in a kennel, she absolutely freaks out. I was afraid she would hurt herself," Ms. McBride said.

Although the first dogs are slowly being placed up for adoption by various agencies, the fallout continues from the raid and subsequent out-of-court settlement that turned the dogs over to the Humane Society of the United States.

Even before the dogs were surrendered to the HSUS, rumors were flying about the possibility of a second kennel in another location, one allegedly operated by Virginia Thornton's daughter. Wayne County animal control officials have no jurisdiction beyond the county line, and could not investigate.

But Sampson County's animal control personnel could -- and did.

They were aware of the kennel known as "Kay's Pets," owned and operated by Ms. Thornton's daughter, and they had known about it for a long time, said Susan Holder, director of Sampson County animal control.

"We have monitored that situation for years," Mrs. Holder said.

However, when officers visited the site just a few weeks after the raid at Thornton Kennels, they were in for a surprise. The cages were empty.

"The person decided to get rid of all the animals," Mrs. Holder said, but she isn't sure what happened to the dogs, although it's possible the owner gave them away.

"I could not tell you," she said.

The only animals left on the property are the five dogs owned personally by the kennel owner, and animal control officers report they are in good health.

"From what I can tell, the situation there was not as bad as that of Thornton Kennels," Mrs. Holder said.

Kay's Pets and Thornton Kennels did not sell puppies to pet stores, so Department of Agriculture laws did not apply to their operations. North Carolina does not currently have specific laws against puppy mills, but after seeing firsthand the condition of the dogs taken from Thornton Kennels, Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, and Rep. Efton Saeger, R-Wayne, are spearheading legislation that will make it difficult for puppy mills to operate in North Carolina.

The bill proposes to limit the number of producing females a dog breeder may have, and allow for random inspections of kennels with more than 20 female dogs used for breeding.

Since the raid, Wayne County Animal Control Director Justin Scally has been to Raleigh to speak with Davis, Saeger, HSUS officials and others to discuss the need for such legislation.

"We feel we need to do what's best for the animals. We hope we can prevent it from happening again," he said.

Although no charges have been filed against Mrs. Thornton, Wayne County officials are still examining the evidence.

"We're still working with the district attorney. There are hundreds of pages of medical records," Scally said.

Meanwhile, with each passing week, the dogs seized from Thornton Kennels continue to learn about life outside of a cage and come closer to being adopted. Among those still in Wake County SPCA foster homes is Ronstadt, the last puppy Lily -- formerly known as Linda -- will ever have.

"I was worried at first she might miss her baby, but she seems fine," Ms. McBride said.

None of the dogs will ever be used for breeding again, said Hope Hancock, executive director of the Wake County SPCA.

"They're getting their shots. They're being spayed and neutered," she said.

Although many people have contacted the SPCA to get details about the eight dogs that are still in their care, Mrs. Hancock couldn't put an exact date on when they might be available for adoption.

"That varies from dog to dog. We need to give them some time," she said.

There was such an overwhelming response from Wake County citizens, the group started a waiting list of people interesting in adopting one of the dogs taken from Thornton Kennels.

Although none of the dogs at the Wake County SPCA have any serious health concerns, many of the others have eye, skin and dental problems that are still being treated.

And because they lived in cages with little human interaction, all of the dogs are undergoing behavior modification and socialization training in their foster homes, Mrs. Hancock said.

Like Lily, many might still have minor behavioral issues that can only be resolved with patience and time, if they are ever resolved at all. While the dogs are safe and well-cared-for in shelters and foster homes throughout the Southeast, only time will tell if they will be able to live a fully normal canine life.

"It just breaks my heart to hear about it, because she's so sweet," Ms. McBride said.