EASTLAND – On February 20th, the City of Eastland seized over 100 dogs from Mary Clark due to evidence the animals were being neglected. Mary Clark wrote two letters to the editor in the local newspaper and this is the Eastland City Manager’s response to that:
“The case involving the seizure of over 100 animals in The City of Eastland and in rural Eastland County last week has been settled”, according to Ron Holliday, Eastland City Manager.
Holliday said personal pets have been returned to the owner of the breeding operation in exchange for surrender of over 100 dogs that have been sent to various animal rescue groups, agreement to cease the breeding operation and other considerations. As a result of the agreement, no charges will be filed.
“We are glad to have this case settled”, Holliday concluded. “However, since the seizure took place on February 20, there has been considerable amount of skewed information contained in letters to the editor sent to our local newspaper and other information circulating in our community about this sad case. Accordingly, I am rather reluctantly attaching my response submitted to The Eastland Telegram containing the other side of the story”, he said.
I hope most people would agree that there are two sides to any story. I am writing this in response to the several pages published in your last two editions about the seizures of dogs and other animals last week. Put another way, this is the other side of that story. Long though this is, I am asking in the sense of fairness for you to print this letter, unedited and in its entirety as well as the accompanying three photographs.
We recently received a very credible, graphic complaint from three sources alleging operation of what’s commonly referred to as a “puppy mill” both within the City of Eastland and in the county. The complaint detailed the confinement of dozens of dogs in filthy, crowded, conditions that, if true, would clearly violate animal cruelty laws, city zoning and other violations.
Realizing the seriousness of the allegations and their potential repercussions, we redoubled efforts to make certain the complaint was reasonably based. Unfortunately, we found nothing to dissuade us from accepting it as valid.
I feel compelled to clarify a point here since I have used the term “we” a couple of times. As Eastland’s city manager, I take the full responsibility for this action. Other city employee’s actions were a result of following my directions, based on my belief that we couldn’t simply stand by and allow a deplorable situation to continue.
So, did I decide to take action in a vacuum without any reasonable basis for going forward or consideration of repercussions? Absolutely not. I consulted with our District Attorney, statewide animal welfare organizations familiar with similar situations and state law, our legal counsel, the Sheriff’s Office and others. Based on the advice and information gleaned from those sources, my own knowledge and research and my personal convictions of right vs. wrong, I initiated this action and I stand by it.
The decision to go forward was relatively easy compared to the agonizing decision of how best to proceed. To be sure, there was more than one way. As I pondered the pros and cons of alternate approaches, I ended up with the same conclusion. The complaint had an extremely high probability of panning out. If it did, I couldn’t in good conscience leave the animals in squalid, inhumane conditions. Yet our animal shelter has only four kennels. We had graphic evidence that there were many dogs crowded in a little Eastland house. They would overwhelm our local animal shelter facility if we had to act on our own. We also knew there were even more dogs at a companion site in the county but were unsure as to the exact number. Based on that information, I asked for help from several animal rescue organizations. I also tried to think through and implement the most practical way not to sensationalize the operation any more than absolutely necessary.
After going through that thought process, and based on abundant probable cause, we secured the appropriate search warrant and discovered the complaint to be almost 100% accurate. Accordingly, and after having gone through the appropriate steps, the rescue groups retrieved one male dog, nine female dogs each with a litter of puppies and two pregnant females from the small room where they were housed in unsanitary conditions that were very poorly ventilated. Contrary to what has been said, among the problems the inspectors encountered was being smacked in the face by a very strong urine / ammonia odor when they entered the room containing all the dogs. That stench wasn’t coming from cat pee in the annex!
A later exam by one of the vets revealed one of the pregnant dogs had an umbilical hernia, thought to be a hereditary condition. Dogs with umbilical hernias should not be used for breeding.
I have no desire to consider keeping a rat for a pet. I’m sure my attitude toward them is the same as most Eastland residents. Be that as it may, no living creature deserves to be kept confined in the manner eight large white and brown “fancy rats” were being kept. All eight were in a cramped aquarium with sides so filthy you could barely see what was inside and living on top of a thick layer of their own feces. The stench and ammonia smell coming from it were stifling. I don’t see how they survived.
There were eleven additional dogs, including puppies, in the adjacent house and yard. The yard containing three big dogs was covered with feces. These dogs’ coats which are naturally prone to matting, were all deeply matted with feces and they had feces smeared on their paws and fur.
Based on the findings in the Eastland home and after having gone through appropriate legal proceedings, the Eastland Sheriff’s Department made a similar inspection of a site in the county, which turned out to house fifty dogs. They all lived outside with large amounts of feces accumulated in their pens. There was edible food in each pen but their water was truly gross.
The vast majority of these dogs smelled to high heaven due to feces and urine matted into their hair. “What’s the big deal”, one might ask. “So, they could use a bath”. According to the veterinarian on this inspection, the deep fecal matting on these dogs, especially the longhaired ones, was the result of long-term neglect. This matting is the cause of deep infections, ulcers and swelling occurring under the wet fecal infested matting. There was water and mud in most of the enclosures due to the recent rain and melted snow.
There was one twelve-week-old puppy that will probably have to have his eye surgically removed due to a neglected corneal infection.
I have attached a photo of one of the dogs that obviously lived – not stayed, but lived – in a small, elevated hutch. I hope it will print in sufficient detail. Take particular note of the second picture I have also attached, taken of this dog’s paws from below. Since there was no solid floor for her to stand on, her toes straddled the wire at the cage’s bottom resulting in cuts and infection between her toes. There were other dogs living in elevated hutches like this. Fortunately, they are now under a vet‘s care.
Worse yet, with the exception of all but the youngest of the animals, all these dogs have some stage of periodontal disease. Many are at stage four of the disease and have broken teeth.
Please look at the third photo I have enclosed which is of one of these unfortunate animals’ jawbone. Periodontal disease has many causes both genetic and environmental. Mild periodontal disease can be reversed, but once it is advanced to stage 3 or 4 as it has in many of these dogs, it can’t be reversed. Advanced periodontal disease is painful and it hurts all the time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because the tartar and pus on these dogs’ teeth are 80% bacteria, they are ingesting bacteria into their bloodstream every time they try to eat or chew on anything and it predisposes them to kidney and heart disease. Many of these dogs will most likely lose multiple teeth once they are cleaned up and they will suffer periodontal disease for the rest of their lives.
A total of 95% of all the cocker spaniels on site suffered from moderate to severe ear infections, almost all the dogs had internal and external parasites and there was no record of any of the dogs, from the county or in town, being vaccinated
So the animal rescue groups helping us wound up housing over 100 dogs in the clean, warm environment of the temporary kennel they established. They have now been moved on where they will eventually wind up in good homes.
Many people might assume the term “cruelty to animals” to include only beatings or malnutrition. That isn’t the case. State law that has been on the books for many years defines animal cruelty to include gross neglect and subjecting them to inhumane living conditions. None of these dogs showed any signs of malnutrition or being beaten or anything like that. Nobody has alleged that and I have tried to point that out in every interview I have given. These animals were simply neglected to a very serious level over an extended period of time and suffered for it. The entire operation was extensively photographed and documented.
I absolutely loathe sending this letter. While I am not naïve enough to think that this whole thing would just immediately blow over, I was hopeful that all parties could move on. This was a feeling Ms. Clark told me she shared. Yet, we have faced page after newspaper page portraying a very skewed version of this sad event and I have no idea where it might end.
So I have regretfully concluded it prudent to respond with the other side of the story. Rather than put the issue to bed, I suspect this letter will elicit more response. However, I do not plan to enter into an extended newspaper exchange with anyone over this.
Eastland City Manager
February 27, 2012