Regina Brabham has seen a lot of cruelty in her time of running an animal rescue, but not to the scale that she witnessed recently in Montgomery County.
She operates Critical Care for Animal Angels near Byron and was among rescue volunteers from around the Southeast who responded when an alleged puppy mill was busted Jan. 5. Angela Powell, 51, of Ailey, was charged with animal cruelty for keeping about 450 German shepherds in filthy conditions in separate locations in Candler and Montgomery counties.
Brabham and volunteer Melissa Gibbs drove a van to the Montgomery County location and brought back eight of the dogs. They kept six and sent two others to another rescue group.
“It was horrible conditions for any animal to live in,” Brabham said. “Waste, poop, nasty water. The animals were filthy. We spent the first evening doing nothing but bathing terrified dogs.”
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The dogs were kept in large group pens outdoors with igloo-type shelters, but not nearly enough for the number of dogs, she said. There was no grass and the ground was just mud and feces more than ankle deep. She said the dogs had little human contact and many were near feral in their behavior.
They have had many people call offering to adopt or foster the dogs, but Brabham said they are a long way from allowing that to happen. The dogs may need weeks or months of physical and emotional rehabilitation.
But she said they are doing surprisingly well considering where they were a few days ago. Although the dogs were initially difficult to get into the van, once they left the location they suddenly became quiet and looked happier.
“They were so glad to be out of there,” Brabham said. “It’s like they knew they were being rescued.”
Their first task has been to teach the dogs it’s not normal to live in filth. They have been taking them outside daily to learn what it’s like to walk on grass and dry ground. As Gibbs worked with the dogs Monday, they were somewhat timid but also affectionate toward her.
“I think they are doing amazing when you think about what they are came from,” Gibbs said. “Dogs are so resilient. They are way more forgiving than people. They still have a long way to go, most of them, but I think they will get there.”
In addition to neglect, they suspect the dogs were physically abused because of how they cower when someone gets near them holding a broom. One upside is that the dogs have not been aggressive, and Brabham believes they will all eventually be adoptable. Surprisingly, none of the dogs that have been tested are positive for heartworms.
One dog has an autoimmune disorder, which is likely passed down to any pups she had. They will have to wait and see how that condition progresses before deciding whether she can be adopted. Another is severely shut down emotionally, and it could take years to rehabilitate her.
Although the case is the largest puppy mill they have seen, Brabham said it’s not unusual. She recalled a Jones County case in which she had to step over dead dogs to rescue live ones at a puppy mill.
“We are seeing this all over Georgia,” she said.
Breeders may get $1,000 or more for a puppy, and many end up with too many dogs having too many puppies. One of the dogs she rescued from Montgomery, she said, has mammary tumors as a result of over-breeding and is scheduled for surgery. A reputable breeder will breed selectively, maybe every two years, she said, but in puppy mills the dogs are likely bred every cycle, which is twice a year.
“It’s all about greed,” Brabham said.
They are expecting to spend thousands of dollars on medical care and rehabilitation for the dogs.
She urged people to carefully research a breeder before buying a puppy. Breeders may present dogs in good surroundings when they are selling puppies, not showing the conditions they may live in most of the time.
“When you buy a dog from a breeder and you don’t check them out, that cruelty is what you are supporting,” she said.
Better yet, Brabham encourages people who are determined to get a specific breed to check shelters because almost every breed can be found for adoption.
She has been involved in rescuing dogs from dog fighting operations and said a puppy mill is similar in its impact on the animals.
“This is just a different kind of cruelty and it’s just as bad,” she said. “Both are about greed. Dog fighting is about money and cruelty and this is about money and cruelty.”
She wants to see Powell charged with a felony for every dog rescued.
Brabham’s rescue, which opened in 2012, is a no-kill shelter and currently has 49 dogs. Although the shepherds are not ready to adopt, she said people can help out by adopting or fostering some of the other dogs they have in order to allow more time and resources to help the shepherds. Donations can be made by going to the group’s website at criticalcareinc.wixsite.com/ccaa.