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Animal control official warned kennel owner of poor conditions

Posted August 12, 2009
Updated August 13, 2009

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— A former Wayne County Animal Control Services director testified on Wednesday that he warned Virginia Thornton many times to improve the conditions of her kennel, but saw no improvement.

Thornton, of Mount Olive, ran a kennel which housed hundreds of dogs. She faces a dozen misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty after authorities deemed her operation at her home in southern Wayne County a puppy mill.

County animal control officers seized 283 dogs from Thornton's kennel in February. Many of the animals were emaciated, had untreated cuts and were housed in filthy conditions, authorities said.

Dogs to be available for adoption Animal cruelty trial begins for Mount Olive woman

Thornton turned herself in to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office in April and was later released on $10,000 unsecured bond, according to her attorney, Billy Strickland.

"I have no comment," Thornton told WRAL News during a break from the courtroom on Wednesday.

Justin Scally, who is now the deputy manager of the Puppy Mill Task Force at the Humane Society of the United States, testified that his group found multiple dogs in each cage leaving no place for them to exercise. He also noted dogs matted with feces and surrounded by hundreds of flies.

Scally noted the dogs were in poor physical condition and many had eye infections. The kennel also had a strong smell of feces and urine.

Dr. Lisa Dixon, a veterinarian who helped with the removal of the dogs, also testified about the smells being over-powering through her respirator mask.

Dixon was one of the first people to check the animals. She said many of the dogs had scalding marks on their skin from severe matting. About 20 of the dogs were of normal weight, the others were too thin.

Prosecutors aired video taken of the dogs in kennels at Thornton's home and some of their injuries as veterinarians inspected them.

The 12 animal cruelty charges pertain to the seized dogs with the most serious injuries or health problems. The investigation and the removal of the dogs cost taxpayers about $100,000, Scally said.

Members of the North Carolina Humane Society attended Wednesday's trial.

Amanda Arrington, the director of the N.C. Humane Society, said she is hoping Thornton is found guilty “to show that the way these dogs were living was substandard and we're not going to accept it.”

The trial is expected to resume on Thursday.

So-called puppy mills are commercial dog-breeding operations that mass-produce puppies in factory-style settings for sale at pet stores and over the Internet.

State law does not govern puppy mills, although some state lawmakers want legislation that would regulate them.

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  • SisterChristian Aug 14, 2009

    THE LAW NEEDS ENFORCEMENT: All these folks care about is making $...they don't care about the way the poor dogs are being housed. Wake Co. and the world needs to place very harsh punishment on animal cruelty and this is a fine example. This lady is a SICKO and really should be placed prosecuted to the fullest extent and NEVER be allowed to EVER own another pet as long as she lives on this earth!!!! She will pay a very high price for what she did when she has to face "Our Maker, Jesus Christ".

  • goodguy1977 Aug 12, 2009

    It's very simple: Cruelty laws must be enforced. The legislature should focus on bettering enforcement of existing cruelty laws (and not on bills that offer no chance of bettering the health or welfare of animals, like the one they considered this past year). Check out humanewatch.org.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 12, 2009

    If people just stopped BUYING dogs & cats...it would solve a lot of problems like this.

    1/4 of shelter animals are pure breeds. NC kills over 250,000 dogs&cats every year. Spay, neuter & adopt. We can end this.

  • momeeee Aug 12, 2009

    I agree mom2threecld - let her live like that for a while!

  • luvmyjackrascal Aug 12, 2009

    why does WRAL allow breeders to post ads for dogs and cats on their website?

    That is a good question!

  • mom2threecld Aug 12, 2009

    those poor animals. give her a dose of her own medicine

  • HereswhatIthink Aug 12, 2009

    I have to ask this question again - why does WRAL allow breeders to post ads for dogs and cats on their website when you see some of them that have multiple litters so you know they are breeding and breeding and breeding.

    Don't breed and buy while so many die in shelters everyday!

  • luvmyjackrascal Aug 12, 2009

    This breaks my heart too. Those dogs really suffered in those small cages - animal cruelty, no matter what kind, should be a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Maybe people would think twice before abusing an animal if they knew they'd serve jail time. Yes, the shelters are always full of wonderful dogs - there is no need to "purchase" a dog from people like this woman. I hope she gets a severe penalty.

  • valentine girl Aug 12, 2009

    It still breaks my heart to see those pictures and read about the dogs' conditions and the conditions of their environment. The owner may have "cared" for the dogs, but was too greedy to take care of her investment. Hopefully, she will never be able to breed dogs again. So sad, so sad.

  • raggy116 Aug 12, 2009

    There are too many animals now in the shelters and dumped side of the roads. All it is greed.