UPDATE: Puppy mill owner charged with one county of animal cruelty
BRADLEY COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -
UPDATE: The Bradley County woman found with nearly 250 dogs at her home has been arrested by the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
After an investigation of the large number of dogs found Wednesday at a home on Candies Creek Road SW, and after consultation with the District Attorney’s Office, a warrant for one count of Cruelty to Animals was issued Thursday according to a news release from the agency.
Rebecca Van Meter, 56, was arrested and processed at the Bradley County jail. She is free after posting a $500 bond. There are new details emerging after Wednesday's raid on a McDonald, Tennessee farm where more than 240 dogs and puppies were found being kept in poor and unsanitary conditions.
One of the rescued puppies has since died.
But HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, has now stepped in to help as Bradley County's SPCA as the local animal welfare group secures a new facility to help the inordinate amount of dogs.
The SPCA hopes to open what used to be the old Dollar General store in Charleston, Tennessee to help house the rescued canines this weekend.
As the group pushes back on reports the alleged dog breeders are hoarders.
"A hoarding situation is a different situation altogether, this was a business enterprise," concludes Bradley County's SPCA Communications Director Beth Foster, who wants clarity amid the disgusting discovery of more than 200 dogs and puppies, held in squalid conditions at this suspected puppy mill near the Bradley and Hamilton County line Wednesday.
"This is a puppy mill, an enterprise set up for profit to breed dogs and sell them," says Foster.
Getawag.com, a web page replete with Rebecca VanMeter's photo and sales pitch for alleged therapy dogs gives creedance to Foster's accusation that this farm in McDonald was home to an unlicensed dog breeding operation..
Of the 247 dogs discovered on this property Wednesday, more than 110 remain onproperty here Thursday night. Animal welfare workers say the dogs are under the care of monitors and that the dogs had to be left here, simply because of the sheer number and their facility's limited amount of space.
Bradley SPCA Director Bobbi Anderson and an animal welfare officer came to the VanMeter's home Thursday night to bring food to the 112 dogs that remain. But Anderson immediately noticed two things, a new sign warning against trespassers, and VanMeter herself, not at home to accept donated dog food.
"I'm going to drop the food and call her and leave a message that we made our delivery," sighs Anderson.
Back at Bradley SPCA headquarters, Foster thanks the Tennessee Valley for more than 6 thousand dollars in donations so far, along with hundreds of pounds of food.
But she's not as appreciative for Tennessee's lawmakers, who back in March allowed the state's five year old commercial breeder's law to expire at the end of this month, to combat alleged puppy mills such as the one discovered Wednesday in McDonald
"Our local state senators (Todd) Gardenhire and Mike Bell voted to extend the commercial breeder's act which would have had something in place to deal with this," laments Foster. Chattanooga's Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson says it wasn't indifference, but economic reality that led to the demise of Tennessee's so-called "puppy mill law."
Watson says the law's funding mechanism failed when licensing sand fee projections from the law fell far short from actual revenue.
He says a new, beefed-up, animal welfare law is in the works for 2015, but animal rights champions such as Foster say the law, weak as it may have been, was at least something to help combat the puppy mill problem across the state.
As of Thursday night, neither Mr. nor Mrs. VanMeter have been criminally charged but the investigation into the alleged puppy mill is in the early stages.