Wednesday, March 20, 2013


No puppies.  We pulled 117 dogs (a number of them lactating) out of that trailer and yard, and didn't find one puppy.  Word from the neighbors was that the dogs' owner would show up every once in a while to dump down a bag or two of food.  But when there's not enough to eat, and over a hundred dogs need to be fed, they inevitably start eating each other.

A few dozen of us congregated early Tuesday and listened to instructions at the local sheriff's department.  Some of us were volunteers, others were local shelter staff and trained rescue organizers.  Law enforcement accompanied us out to protect us from the person who should have been protecting her dogs.  Throughout the day, one of our number would shake her head and wonder aloud: how?  How had it come to this?

"This" was a four-letter word we grappled with for almost 12 hours.

"This" meant a year-old double-wide trailer bought to house dogs that I'm sure were rescues, of a sort, and the obvious mental break that happens when someone's good intentions go horribly awry and love turns crazy.

"This" was an enormous yard, newly fenced, six feet high, meant to keep in the dogs she thought she was protecting.  A yard devoid of grass or flowers, littered with bed springs, blankets ripped to shreds, empty cans, trash.  No food.  No water.

"This" was a smell so severe, so nasty and vile, that law enforcement officers gagged and spat at the far end of the lawn.  The odor hung like an aura for at least a few dozen feet from the house, a sickening combination of rotting meat, diarrhea, molasses (maybe licorice?), decaying vegetation, dirty dog, earth and piss.

"This" meant fear, and hunger, and illness.  Fleas, scabs, sores, blood, urine and feces, bite scars, open wounds, wild eyes.  Toenails yellowed, twisted, and so long they pointed in different directions.  Saggy leathery nipples.  The dogs' skin was in such bad shape that many of them looked like hyenas, nearly hairless save little patches here and there.  For cataloging purposes, veterinarians had to guess at the color of some of the dogs.  Occasionally, a fight would break out, the sound like a drum set tossed down a long flight of stairs.  The snapping, yelping and growling of those about to be saved.

Neighbors across the street pulled out lawn chairs.  The beautiful country setting glared in stark contrast to the suffering of those dogs.  With lush pink azaleas in view, the first of the dogs were pulled out of the house around ten.  One was dead.  Another had to be put to sleep immediately.  One neighbor tilled his soil for a vegetable garden.  A dog's head and a number of bones were pulled from the house to be used as evidence.

We counted four flat-screen TV's inside, one of them at least 50 inches, furniture that had been beautiful at one point.  "Hey," I said, while walking through the kitchen.  "I've got that same Crock-Pot."  We laughed a little.  That Crock-Pot was sitting on the floor of a kitchen covered in the bodily fluids of over a hundred dogs.  The urine in the house had created an ammonia haze so thick, that even though we wore masks coated on the inside with menthol rub, our eyes watered and stung.  "Let me get your picture," one rescuer said.  A few of us posed there amid the filth and ruin, and one of our number asked: "Are we supposed to smile?"

As the day wore on, the dogs became harder to catch.  The first ones out were those too sick to fight or still friendly despite their surroundings.  After the house was mostly cleared, we had to start bringing in the dogs from the back yard.  They circled in giant loops, barking, hiding in holes they had dug.  One woman swung a bent curtain rod over her head in circles as she walked the perimeter of the fence, which drove some dogs to the "sanctuary" of the house.  After half a dozen had rushed in, one of us would lean up against the back door to keep the dogs inside, so they could be cornered and captured.  When all but the last 30 or so were crated and transported, animal control officers came in to grab the rest.  Using poles fitted with wire loops, they brought out dog-after-dog on the ends of those poles.  The animals twisted and snapped.  Some bit their tongues and bled on their emancipators.

As each dog was placed in a crate, sometimes two or three at a time, a quiet calm would settle on him.  The worst was over.  Some napped, some whined a little or howled occasionally.  A few wagged their tails.  These little pockets of peace floated down throughout the day.  Kind words softly spoken.  Cigarette breaks  peppered with good-natured teasing.  Hand shakes and smiles between two new comrades-in-arms.  Compliments, thank-you's, small offerings of water or crackers, and the knowledge that we were all there together with the same spirit of love and giving.

As the last few dogs were loaded into vans, trucks, and a horse trailer, one of our number said she wanted to check out some garbage bags at the front of the lawn.  The neighbors reported the homeowner had been home at one point and carried out heavy-looking black lawn bags from the home, maybe twenty of them.  A lot of it looked like trash.  But we suspected worse.

I offered to help go through the trash and was told it could be bad.  Really bad.  I didn't want her to have to look through that garbage by herself.  We armed ourselves with sticks and poked through a few bags.  Mostly cans and household rubbish.  Inside several of the trash bags, we could see large dog food bags which, upon inspection, seemed unusually heavy.  I opened one dog food bag and saw a flash of fur, a scurry of white maggots, shiny wet muscle and a foot.  She had put dead dogs in the empty dog food bags.  The second one was worse.  What was left of the dog sloshed inside the bag as I moved it and the smell made me turn away and violently gag.

Pictures were snapped and our remaining crew members stood around dumb-founded.  After bravely holding open bags of dead dogs for photographing, the woman I had gone to help told me she needed to go back to her vehicle and cry for a bit.  I went and sat by a crated female dog that I checked up on throughout the day.  Number 76.  A nondescript blackish, brownish girl with crusty skin, fleas, curled toenails and clear chocolate-colored eyes.  I talked to her and sang to her.  I told her about how much better her life would get.  She just listened and looked.

We picked up our empty water bottles and potato chip wrappers, folded up a big blue tarp that had hidden the bodies of the deceased, put away the Band-Aids, pens, stethoscopes, cameras and leashes.  We poked fun at each others' sunburned cheeks and how much we stank and joked about the cigarettes or beer we'd need at home.  I took two crated dogs in my car back to the shelter: numbers 76 and 109.  They scratched and shook their way through the first few turns out of their old neighborhood, but a few miles down the road, their heads started bobbing, and they closed their eyes.  I played Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" for them, a hopeful lullaby on the way to shelter:

You belong among the wildflowers.
You belong in a boat out at sea.
Sail away, kill off the hours.
You belong somewhere you feel free.


Some of these animals will be put to sleep today.  That decision is not made lightly but is based on the physical suffering of that dog or the danger it poses to those who would care for it.  The majority of them will be patched and soothed, rehabilitated and placed into loving homes, pending the outcome of the legal issues. Last night, Southern Pines Animal Shelter took in about 60 of these dogs, one of which only had three legs, and gave them respite on cool green grass with food and clean water, dog treats, head scratches, and sweet spoken "good nights."

People tend to rally around events like this one.  Some get angry at the owner of the dogs...some become angry with the rescuers and law enforcement.  And this story is sad, for sure.  But the sad part of the story is over for these 117.  Today their bellies are full and they will start to receive the medical attention they need.  More appropriate now is concern for the animals out there that have not been rescued yet.  They are out there and so desperate that they're eating each other.

You can help!  Even if you aren't in a position to physically assist in rescue operations, you can donate monetarily to the local organizations that every day help neglected, unwanted, lost and abandoned animals.  It costs about a half a million dollars a year to operate Southern Pines Animal Shelter (a non-profit organization that took in 5,000 animals in 2012) and most of that money comes from donations.  Without donations, we could not remain open and we would not have been able to send vans, experienced employees and volunteers, and supplies to help with this rescue operation.  We would not have the facility to house and care for sixty dogs this week.  Donate to Southern Pines Animal Shelter by visiting our web site at  We are being financially assisted by the Humane Society of the United States for this particular rescue, but we continue to need financial support to keep our doors open for next time.


Peggy Lee said...

It's so hard to believe someone would let that happen.
God bless you and the others for doing what you do.

Barb said...

Heartbreaking. Bless you for doing this work. I assume the hoarder will be prosecuted? I sure hope so.

Colleen said...

I admire your strength, and that of those who participated in the rescue. It breaks my heart that we treat fellow creatures this way. You have given an incredible gift to those who survived, and ended the suffering of those who could not be saved. This is very special work, done by special people.

C Reeder PhxAz said...

Your writing skill is impecible here to show the horrific impact of what happens to poor helpless animals. My husband and I support a small local rescue here. The dog we have now, a brindle boxer named Gabriel, was only 19 pounds when we got him in August of 2012. He had been left in a foreclosure home with no food or water and acid dumped down his spine to kill him when he was found. He now has a permanent 2" scar the whole length of his back and permanent bone damage on his spine but he just weighed in at 62 pounds last week. He is a huge bundle of love. Rescue dogs take a lot of patience and a lot of work, but they truly make the best companions because they are always so "thankful." Always.... Bless your new found spot in life - you are going to shine and these animals are going to be so well cared for - even in the loving decision to let them go to the rainbow bridge and have peace.

marly said...

I don't know if I would have the courage to enter those grounds as you did. Thank you and all the others. How can neighbors and people passing by have let this go for so long? I know I won't sleep tonight, but I'm grateful to you that these needy animals will do so in peace.

Carole W. said...

Bless you, Theresa, for what you do to help these poor creatures. I hope and pray those recued will find some peace and quiet and, most of all, love in their new homes....they are way overdue! And you take care of yourself, too....finding such a horrific scene has to take a tremendous toll on you.

Natalia said...

I have no words. I am totally speechless that human beings are capable of such horror. God bless you, Theresa. I will be donating to the shelter that holds these rescued doggies.

Terri said...

I could not have done what you did. Bravo! Those poor animals. Bless you for helping with that rescue!!

Lynn said...

I have a friend who used to work for the Humane Society here in Canada and as such had heard of these types of rescues however nothing as horrific or of this magnitude. My heart is breaking for those poor animals. It is beyond me how an individual can reach this point in their treatment of animals.
Thank you for your efforts and the continuing care you are providing to the dogs.

Laurel said...

Bless you! You are a saint for doing this work. I was a foster home for Great Dane rescue when we had a larger yard and some of those dogs just broke our hearts when we first received them. It was so wonderful to bring them back from starvation and send them off to happy homes. I hope some of these dogs can find that happiness.

Ginger said...

Oh Theresa, you moved me, and I am sure many others, to tears. Thanks you for all the work that have done, continue to do and will do in the future. People like you and the other volunteers are rare and should be recognized for the hard work you do to protect God's creatures.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. Such a horrible situation. Thank you, Theresa, for helping these animals.

I'm in my work cubicle reading about this and I don't think I'll be able to keep myself from crying.

Their lives will be better because of you. You do heroic work.

Carol S.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Hi Theresa, I've been following this story since it broke yesterday in the news. I live in Ellisville and am a huge fan of Southern of my 3 current dogs is a Southern Pines adoptee from post Katrina :)
I am horrified at this story and at the same time am so glad that there are people who really do care and want to do the best that they can for the animals. I'm a new follower of your blog which I found via Katherine Sammons' Facebook. God bless you for your acts of mercy and love yesterday.

pj said...

Theresa, you are sure a blessing to this shelter! It is unreal what you see and deal with and I am sure this is where your heart is right now. Thanks for the great work and good luck with the new position if you get it.

I hope you will continue with some designing work as you will be missed in the needlework community.

Anonymous said...

So glad there are people like you willing to step in and help.
I can't believe neighbors would pull out chairs like this was a sporting event.

Sue Robinson said...

I read your moving account with absolute horror. My heart goes out to those poor dogs. It is beyond belief how they have been treated. You have my utmost admiration for the work that you do to alleviate the suffering of these poor animals. I have wept for them but you have done something far more useful, bless you, Theresa,

Lee Morrison said...

Theresa, I am truly saddened by your account of what happened to those poor dogs, but the important thing is that they have been "rescued" and will be given another chance at a better life.

They are safe now, with full bellies, a warm place to sleep and are surrounded by people like you, who will make sure that they are treated the way they should be....with love, respect and compassion.

You are a very special lady....God bless you for what you do.

KsMaryLou said...

God bless you Theresa for all the work you do with your local animal shelter. The day you have described should be an eye-opener for many people. It is unbelievable how people can be so heartless with animals. I have shared your write-up of this experience on my Facebook page.