Local News

Seized dogs to be available for adoption

Posted February 10, 2009 4:02 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The woman accused of running what authorities call a puppy mill reached an agreement Tuesday to give the nearly 300 dogs seized from her breeding facility to the Wayne County Animal Control office, officials said.

After physical examinations on Wednesday, the 283 dogs – seized from Thornton Kennels in southern Wayne County last Thursday – will go to rescue groups and humane society groups across the region for rehabilitation and adoption, Humane Society of the United States spokeswoman Jordan Crump said.

Over the next few days, the animals will begin social and physical rehabilitation.

The county is transferring ownership of the dogs to the Humane Society of the United States, county spokeswoman Barbara Arntsen said in a release.

A list of shelters where the animals will be kept and information about adoption will be posted on the Humane Society of the United States Web site later this week. People can also contact Wayne County Animal Control at 919-731-1439 for more information. The dogs are expected to be shipped to Florida and Virginia shelters.

“The Humane Society of the United States strongly urges local law enforcement to pursue criminal charges against the mill owner and bar her from breeding dogs in the future,” the society’s senior director of emergency services, Scotlund Haisley, said in a statement.

Virginia Thornton's attorney, Billy Strickland, and Wayne County's attorney, Borden Parker, reached the agreement before a hearing that had been scheduled Tuesday to decide custody of the animals.

In the agreement, Thornton surrendered all rights to and interests in the dogs, Arntsen said.

Authorities said they are also considering pressing criminal charges against Thornton.

The dogs – mostly shih-tzus, chihuahuas and Lhasa apsos – have been treated for infections, Crump said. Three young puppies died the day of the raid. The rest are responding well to treatment, she said.

“They've been neglected,” Humane Society spokeswoman Kathleen Summers said. “They were not bred to live their lives in small cages. It's very cruel."

The Humane Society assisted in the seizure. One of the workers wore a camera to document the raid first-hand.

Volunteers with the United Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Rescue Service have been overseeing the temporary shelter of the rescued animals. Representatives of the Sacramento, Calif.-based group flew in to attend Tuesday’s scheduled hearing.

“I am amazed at the unprecedented outpouring of compassion and dedication that we have seen in this rescue mission,” said Justin Scally, director of the county Department of Animal Control. “It would have been impossible for us to save these animals without the support of all of the organizations and volunteers involved.”

Thornton Kennels' business number has been disconnected, and a message left for Thornton on another phone wasn't returned.

A "puppy mill" is a dog-breeding operation that mass-produces puppies in factory-style settings for sale at pet stores and over the Internet.

Local animal advocates went to the courthouse in anticipation of the hearing. They held signs requesting lawmakers ban puppy mills and get tough on breeders who neglect animals.

"Just because they're four-legged and they got fur on them, doesn't mean you can kick them around,” Wayne County resident George Wolfe said.