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UPDATE: 'Deplorable' puppy mill busted in Leland

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

Deplorable.

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That’s how officials are describing the horrific scene they encountered Friday in the Leland area.

Acting on an anonymous tip, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by shelter and animal rescue groups, descended on a puppy mill at 2059 Maco Road. The team rescued 158 dogs and 26 birds. Two people were arrested.

“The conditions were less than desirable for animals of any sort,” Sgt. Tommy Tolley with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said of the doublewide trailer where a couple was charged with keeping animals in inhumane conditions.

Amelia Millis, 62, and Andrew Millis, 64, were each charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty, with more charges pending. They are each being held on $1.5 million bonds at the Brunswick County Detention Center.

A search warrant was executed Friday afternoon, with help from the Humane Society of the United States, Guilford County Animal Services and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Wake County and Charlotte, Tolley said.

Local animal rescue groups, including Rescue Animals Community Effort (RACE) and Paws-Ability assisted with the rescue and evaluation of animals.

“All animals were surrendered by the owners to the humane society, and the animals were dispersed to those agencies listed and other rescue groups for medical needs,” Tolley said.

Tolley said each group involved with the rescue effort would determine when and how the animals would be adopted.

 

“Like nothing I’ve ever seen”

“The cages were covered in feces and urine and overcrowded,” Tolley said. The animals were kept in assorted rooms at the otherwise unoccupied trailer.

“You could tell the animals did not have a lot of human interaction,” Tolley said. “Some were fighting with each other.”

Others were apprehensive when humans approached, he said. Some of the dogs and puppies had fur that was badly matted and caked in feces.

“Some have severe medical problems,” he added.

The site was a “combination of hoarding and puppy mill.”

“It was bad like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Tolley said the doublewide was unoccupied by humans and was being used as a kennel and breeding site for about 130 puppies. Birds were kept in a separate room.

“They had different rooms for different purposes,” Tolley said.

The owners reportedly took the animals back to show and sell at their New Hanover County residence, which was in better shape than the Leland address, Tolley said.

He described the Leland site as “deplorable conditions.”

“Some rooms had nothing on the floor—just bare wood,” Tolley said. “Stuff was piled to the ceiling.”

The puppies had food and water, Tolley said. He said an outside yard was also used at the site.

Tolley estimated there were six to eight puppy breeds there.

“They were what’s called designer dogs—mixing poodles with Shih Tzu, Maltese with Yorkies—creating designer breeds, but just doing it with a lack of proper vet care or medical attention as needed,” he said.

 

Vet help

Dr. Erin Barney, a veterinarian at River Road Animal Hospital in Southport, happened to pass by on her way home from work Friday.

She stopped and asked if she could help. Two other veterinarians were there as well.

“They were doing a great job,” Barney said. “They just definitely could use another set of hands.”

Barney assisted with physical exams to help things move along more quickly and to get the animals into better conditions, she said.

“A few were dehydrated and needed immediate fluid under the skin, and there were some more critical conditions,” Barney said.

Barney said she didn’t see any of the birds.

She said they also examined more mill puppies that were brought from the Wilmington location near UNCW.

“Most were pretty young—I’d say under 5 months,” Barney said.

She said she saw a Chihuahua that looked like it had hydrocephalus, a genetic defect in the breeding line. She saw other dogs that had other genetic umbilical and patella (knee) issues.

“One had Doritos in his fur,” Barney said, adding she’s not sure what the dogs were fed.

A couple of terrier mixes had ears that appeared to have been cut and poorly cropped by the owner with a regular pair of scissors, Barney said.

“I could tell by the margins, and the way it was done was not the way a vet would do it,” she said. “Some of the margins were crooked.”

Barney said it was her understanding there had been no air conditioning in the doublewide, which could have compounded problems in the summer heat and been the cause of death for deceased animals found there.

“I just happened to be there to help, and I’m glad I could,” Barney said.

 

Legislation needed

Paws-Ability founder Janie Withers assisted RACE founder Cheri McLain and foster coordinator Leah Connick with the rescue and placing puppies in temporary care during the weekend.

Withers took four puppies to her house in Ocean Isle Beach, then brought them to Seaside Veterinary Care in Calabash on Monday.

“Brunswick County should not be surprised at all,” Withers said of the puppy mill and its conditions.

“We have absolutely no legislation approved by the legislative body to protect North Carolina from this,” Withers said. “Puppy mill breeders are coming to North Carolina for a reason. There is nothing to stop them.”

Two years ago, she said, New Hanover County adopted a licensing fee for un-altered dogs. Brunswick County could benefit by doing the same but so far has chosen not to do so, Withers said.

Withers expressed appreciation for assistance provided Friday by shelter and animal groups from Guilford and Wake counties and Charlotte.

“They’ve all had puppy-mill issues,” she said. “They’re filling a huge void right now.”

Withers said legitimate breeders do not have the same issues as puppy-mill breeders.

“If someone is selling puppies out of the trunk of a car, it is a puppy mill,” she said. “If [a seller] is asking for cash from the side of the road and doesn’t ask you questions, it’s a puppy mill. A legitimate breeder will ask you more questions than you ask them.”

As a result of Friday’s puppy-mill bust in Brunswick County, on Monday, N.C. Rep. Jason Saine said he fellow Rep. Craig Horn had been discussing introducing legislation next year to address puppy-mill issues in North Carolina.

 

Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.