Local News

Animal control official warned kennel owner of poor conditions

Posted August 12, 2009 11:41 a.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2009 12:47 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.