In late June 2008, the ASPCA assisted in Tennessee's largest-ever puppy mill raid, lending our special Field Investigations and Response Team, two forensic veterinarians and our Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit. More than 700 animals were rescued from living in squalor. Forensic veterinary assistant Felicia Earley recorded her experience in these exclusive field notes from the scene.
Pine Bluff Kennels and its owner, Patricia Adkisson, had long been on the radar of Tennessee law enforcement and animal protection groups. In 1998, Adkisson was charged with 195 counts of animal neglect and cruelty after police found hundreds of neglected dogs and puppies on her property. However, the three resulting convictions were overturned in 2001 when an appeals court ruled that her constitutional rights had been violated by an improper search of her property. Adkisson was soon back in business, even maintaining a website for her puppy-selling business that boasted “room to run and play” on a “scenic and beautiful” farm.
The ASPCA was contacted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), whose local representative had been working with local authorities. Members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team arrived in Lyles on Saturday, June 21, to help plan the logistics of the raid. A tire warehouse located four miles away from Pine Bluff Kennels was secured as a staging area and temporary shelter. To avoid arousing suspicion, rescue organizers told curious locals that they were opening a new pet food store.
The raid of Pine Bluff Kennels began on the morning of Wednesday, June 25. Located deep in the woods down a small dirt road and over a rickety wooden bridge, the puppy mill proved difficult to approach. “The larger transport vehicles that had come to help with the evacuation of animals couldn’t even make it to the scene,” said Sandy Monterose, Senior Director, ASPCA Community Outreach. “Our Mobile CSI Unit was one of the only vehicles that could get right on the site. We wound up having to ferry small groups of animals back to the main roads, where the larger transports waited to receive them.”
The ASPCA Mobile CSI Unit leads a pickup truck through the woods to the puppy mill raid.
The 747 animals discovered were kept in enclosures throughout the 92 acres of the isolated property’s hilly and rocky terrain. While the vast majority were dogs, other animals found included horses, burros, miniature horses, chickens, goats, parrots and purebred cats. It took two full days to get all the animals off the property and to the safety of temporary shelter.
Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation's premier forensic veterinarian and animal CSI, assisted in the collection of evidence for the likely criminal prosecution of the puppy mill's owner. According to Merck, there were about 700 dogs on the property—including more than 200 puppies—all suffering from a lack of basic care. The dogs were found in feces-encrusted, unventilated pens with little or no food or water, and matting, sores, broken limbs, hernias and abscesses were prevalent. Breeds found on the site ran the gamut, size-wise, and included Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, German Shepherds and Great Danes.
In the photo below, Dr. Merck examines a Shar Pei who did not know what to do with the Greenie treat Merck offered him. “He would only lick it over and over like a lollipop,” she said. “These animals had not been handled and loved. As a consequence, we saw tentativeness and then over-exuberance in response to petting.”
Dr. Melinda Merck, Senior Director, ASPCA Veterinary Forensics
“This was one of the worst situations I have ever seen,” continued Merck. “Animals were in extreme states of neglect and illness. Some were dead. The overcrowding, the unsanitary conditions, the flea and parasite infestation, as well as the stress of competing for food and coping with untreated illnesses—all were severe.”
Allison Cardona was among the five ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team experts who assisted with the raid. In a photo taken just hours after the search warrant was served, Cardona holds a dog who was taken out of one of the trailers used to house over 200 dogs and puppies. “What amazed me was how gentle and happy to see people the dog was. He had been living in a tiny cage in squalid and filthy conditions and had probably never seen the light of day, yet he licked my face when I picked him up.”
Allison Cardona, Director, ASPCA Disaster Response
“It was emotionally difficult to be involved in this raid,” said Cardona. “There were so many signs of suffering all around me. But it was also incredibly rewarding to be involved in the rescue and hopefully the shutdown of this particular operation. As hard as it was to see animals in these conditions, I wish that more people could see and experience where the majority of pet-store puppies come from. There is nothing cute about puppy mills and I hope with more awareness and raids like this one in Tennessee, there will be an end to puppy mills.”
The biggest surprise to all involved in the Pine Bluffs raid was that contrary to her actions in 1998, Adkisson chose not to fight to keep her animals—instead, she voluntarily surrendered all of them. Although this was an unexpected development, the ASPCA and HSUS quickly executed a massive outreach effort to animal shelters and rescue groups to secure placement the animals. This effort was an enormous success, with every single animal appropriately placed in just a few days—all were out of the warehouse by June 30, the Monday following the raid. The Pine Bluffs animals were cared for and eventually placed up for adoption in six states and the District of Columbia.*
Thanks in part to the forensic evidence gathered by the ASPCA, the State of Tennessee filed more than 30 charges against Adkisson. In August 2008, she was charged with 24 felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, nine counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, one count of unlawful sale or transport of dogs, one count of unlawful administration of rabies vaccine and one count of paraphernalia.
In December 2009, Patricia Adkisson was convicted of 14 counts of aggravated animal cruelty and 16 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. At her February 2010 sentencing hearing, Adkisson was sentenced to five years on Community Corrections, where she will be heavily monitored, and an additional five years of probationary supervision. In addition, the presiding judge imposed a lifetime ban on both owning animals and associating with animal-related organizations.
To learn more about the puppy mill industry, visit our Puppy Mill section.
The ASPCA is extremely grateful to the shelters and rescue groups that opened their doors and their hearts to the Pine Bluff animals. We are honored to recognize their generosity. They include:
- Washington Animal Rescue League (DC)
- Washington Humane Society (DC)
- Humane Society of Broward County (FL)
- Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League (FL)
- St. Johns County Animal Control Pet Shelter (FL)
- Tampa Bay SPCA (FL)
- Atlanta Humane Society (GA)
- Douglas County Humane (GA)
- Sterile Feral (GA)
- Bowling Green Humane Society (KY)
- Anti-Cruelty Society Chicago (IL)
- Humane Society of Missouri (MO)
- Happy Tails Rescue (TN)
- Hickman County Humane (TN)
- Hohenwald Animal Hospital (TN)
- Humane Association of Wilson County (TN)
- Nashville Humane Association (TN)
- Scottie Rescue (TN)
- Sumner County Humane (TN)