Puppy mill bust in Columbiana

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Investigators discovered Monday what may be the largest unlicensed puppy mill ever found in Alabama.

Inside and outside of a secluded Columbiana home, Lonnie Watson, 66, kept a variety of small dogs for breeding.

Acting on a tip, Shelby County animal control officer Donald Kendrick discovered up to 181 dogs at the unlicensed breeder’s home.

Watson was arrested and charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. He posted bond and was released Monday.

Kendrick said he does not know whom Watson sold the dogs to. An investigation is on-going. The Humane Society of the U.S. defines a puppy mill as a breeding factory that seeks to maximize profits by reducing costs.

Licensed breeders are usually required to have a veterinarian, according to the Humane Society of the U.S.

&uot;It’s a money-making business,&uot; Kendrick said. &uot;People get these small dogs and they’re worth a lot of money.&uot;

Kendrick said Monday’s bust could be the largest puppy mill ever detected in Alabama.

Several of the confiscated dogs continued having puppies throughout Monday as Humane Society staff brought the animals into the shelter. Two rows of cages outside the shelter grew longer and longer as dozens of dogs arrived. Chihuahuas, poodles, Miniature Pinschers and other breeds barked as workers brought more puppies in. Some of the small dogs were four-to-a-cage.

Extra staff from the Humane Society of Greater Birmingham and the regional office of the Humane Society of the U.S. assisted. Four vans shuttled dogs from Watson’s home to the Humane Society shelter in Columbiana.

Animal control officers from Hoover and Alabaster came in to help, along with cruelty investigators from the Alabama Humane Society.

Three veterinarians were on hand to check the animals’ health. Some staff members remained busy helping some of the rescued dogs that were having puppies. By 4 p.m. Monday, the total number of dogs climbed to 181.

Paige Phillips, director of the Humane Society of Shelby County, said that number could change. She expected it to be closer to 200 as new puppies were born.

&uot;I haven’t seen anything like this before,&uot; she said.

According to Alabama laws, misdemeanor animal cruelty is partly characterized as neglect. Watson was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty because investigators did not find signs of torture or evidence that the dogs were used for fighting.

Phillips said all of the dogs from the puppy mill showed signs of neglect.

&uot;All of them are unhealthy,&uot; she said.

Signs varied for different dogs. Some had overgrown toenails and bad teeth. Others had matted hair. Some were under-weight.

Since the dogs were used for breeding, some were older but still pregnant.

&uot;Our main concern is the mother dogs – the breed dogs,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;They are there to breed their whole lives.&uot;

Phillips said some of the older dogs had heart murmurs but were still producing pups.

&uot;They don’t need to be pregnant,&uot; she said.

Phillips said she will be satisfied if the puppy mill is shut down and Watson is prohibited from having dogs in the future.

&uot;We want to make sure he doesn’t have any more dogs,&uot; she said.

To accommodate the large number of dogs, Phillips said the Humane Society of Shelby County is in desperate need of collars