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Vet describes conditions at Chapel Hill dog-breeding operation at center of animal cruelty case

Posted October 22, 2019 6:02 p.m. EDT

— A Chatham County veterinarian informed authorities of deplorable conditions at a Chapel Hill dog-breeding operation, prompting the recent seizure of dozens of dogs and criminal charges against the two owners.

Dr. David Webster, who owns Hope Crossing Animal Hospital in Pittsboro, was called to the backyard breeding operation on Alexander Drive on Oct. 8 for wellness checks on a few puppies.

"I’ve been to this property multiple times, to do rabies shots for them mostly. There’s always been a lot of dogs," Webster said Tuesday, adding that he's had concerns about animals there for years. "This is the worst, by far, that I’ve seen, without a doubt."

The smell of urine and feces around the animals was so strong that Webster had to step out repeatedly to get fresh air, he said. The dogs were stacked in small crates, food in their bowls was old, and there was little, if any, water for them to drink.

In a petition filed by Orange County against the owners of the breeding operation, Cynthia Riggan and Taylor Doar, Webster told authorities that poor conditions there resulted in the deaths of multiple animals due to infectious disease.

Bulldogs seized in animal cruelty case

Exams performed by Webster "revealed a severe infestation of worms in the dogs examined on a level typically unheard of and rarely seen," the petition states.

"My team and I discussed it over the car ride back [to Pittsboro] and decided that enough was enough, and we’d finally seen enough to warrant further investigation," Webster said Tuesday. "It was disheartening. We all got back in the car on the way back and could barely speak to each other, just know how tough they have to have it to live there."

Webster was one of four people to file a complaint with Orange County Animal Services on Oct. 9. Two days later, animal control officers seized 57 English bulldogs and French bulldogs from the breeding operation and charged Riggan, 65, and her son, Doar, 35, with felony animal cruelty.

The county's petition seeks to charge Riggan and Doar for the $37,100 Orange County Animal Services is projected to spend to board the dogs and provide veterinary care for them over 30 days.

Animal control officers noted in the petition that the barn at the breeding operation "was so infested with fleas that ... officers observed their pants and shoes to be blackened with fleas upon exiting the barn, even though they applied bug spray prior to entering the barn." Several dogs appeared emaciated to the officers, the petition states.

Animal Services Director Bob Marotto said one of the seized dogs, a French bulldog puppy, has since died. Officials are conducting a necropsy to determine cause of death, but Marotto said the dog was “loaded with internal parasites.”

Bulldogs seized in Orange County

The rest of the dogs are doing well, in general, and are putting on weight, he said.

"We are continuing the treatment of internal parasites and various conditions that the animals had," he said.

The county shelter has received some cash donations from people to help with the cost of caring for the dogs, Marotto said.

Neither Riggan nor Doar could be reached Tuesday for comment. Riggan told WRAL News last week that she would never mistreat an animal, and she blamed her son for the bad conditions.

A hearing is set for Oct. 29 on the county's petition to recoup the cost of care for the dogs. If Riggan and Doar cannot pay, the shelter would take possession of the dogs and put them up for adoption.

Webster said he has never called authorities on any client before, but he's glad to know the dogs are out of a bad situation.

"Our job is to advocate for the animals, and that’s what me and my team did," he said. "I felt that there were a lot of animals out there that were at risk of continued illness or dying."

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