Author: D'Lyn Ford
Animal control officers in Wilson County saw signs of problems in a dog breeder’s backyard: dozens of thin animals with matted fur.
On their next visit, they brought a sworn animal cruelty investigator: Dr. Kelli Ferris, an NC State veterinarian who’s worked on 15 major puppy mill and animal hoarding cases in North Carolina, some involving hundreds of animals. On this property, Ferris counted a total of 235 dogs of a wide range of breeds, from boxers and German shepherds to Chihuahuas and Scottish terriers. In examining the animals, she saw signs of fire ant bites, flea and tick infestations, intestinal parasites and dental decay so severe it had eroded the jawbones of some dogs. Mother dogs were in poor body condition, and all of the puppies were underweight for their ages.
Based on the findings that day, the owner agreed to transfer the dogs to approved rescue groups during the following week. Meanwhile, Ferris helped pull together a rescue team that included veterinarians, trained volunteers and several dozen veterinary students who had just started their fall semester classes at NC State. They organized an emergency shelter at the county fairgrounds, the only space large enough to house so many animals....
...Animal Hoarding Increasing
“Puppy mill operations have been around for years, but animal hoarding seems to be on the increase in North Carolina,” Ferris says. “My colleagues nationally report that it’s increasing as well.”
Sometimes, investigations involve a breeding operation. That was what Ferris encountered in her first case in 1982 for the American Spaniel Club. When a member died, 80 dogs were found on her property. “All you would see were the beautiful dogs at the show, but here were 60 dogs matted to the skin in a hay barn with no running water.”
Ferris has seen a hoarder whose house was overflowing with black cats as well as a hoarder who had animals ranging from pocket pets to livestock.
“The advent of no-kill sheltering gives someone who is hoarding animals a way to try to gain respectability,” Ferris says. “Instead of being ‘the crazy cat lady,’ someone can position themselves as a shelter with a Web page and nonprofit status.”
However, many hoarders with large numbers of animals live in conditions that are unsafe for humans and animals. In the course of investigations, Ferris has endured ammonia fumes from decaying animal waste piled on the floor. She documents the conditions of both animals and their living spaces, using clinical terms and descriptions that she can use in court..." More