Officials have uncovered what’s being described as a puppy mill in a mansion in the town of Wolfeboro.
Eighty-four Great Danes were discovered as part of a raid carried out Friday. Investigators say the dogs were living in squalid conditions.
The owner of the house – Christina Fay – was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of animal neglect. She’s free on bail and will be arraigned in August.
Lindsay Hamrick is New Hampshire state director of the Humane Society of the United States, and was part of the team that carried out this rescue operation.
She spoke to NHPR’s Morning Edition.
What was your reaction to what you saw?
I’ve been a part of animal cruelty investigations in one way or another in New Hampshire for the last 12 years, and Friday was just this incredible juxtaposition between where we were, which was just this enormous mansion up to 15,000 square feet, with animals living in just complete filth and surrounded by their own waste with no access to water.
How unusual is a case like this for New Hampshire?
It’s unusual in the sense of the type of living situation they were in, but I would caution folks from assuming suspected puppy mills don’t occur here in the Northeast. I think Friday proved that New Hampshire’s not immune to those kinds of cruelties.
Eighty-four animals just seems like an enormous amount.
It is a lot, and the size of these dogs really made this rescue a logistical challenge. Even on Friday, we had to call in extra horse trailers in order to make sure we were transporting them in a way that was least stressful as possible. But the sheer number of animals in one home was just overwhelming. One of the reasons the Humane Society of the United States animal rescue team got involved was that as investigators realized the number and the size of these animals, not only the need for assistance the day of the seizure, but the long-term care of these animals was going to be quite unique.
What special conditions to the Great Danes require?
We were called in initially through the Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord. Their lead investigator had built a thorough investigation of this and realized very quickly the Pope Memorial SPCA nor any other animal shelter in New Hampshire was going to be able to house these animals, simply because they don’t have the room for 84 giant breed dogs. So the animal rescue team came in and we’ve set up an emergency shelter where they have the space and the enrichment and medical treatment they need.
What do we know about the business? Is there any indication people buying these dogs were aware of what was happening?
If you went to this defendant’s website, you would see pictures of dogs out on grass and looking like they were coming from a healthy environment. I think this case really reiterates our efforts to inform consumers that it’s really important you verify where animals are coming from if you’re going to purchase an animal. With the internet, it’s really easy to showcase dogs or animals in a clean and healthy environment and consumers would never realize what was really happening behind closed doors.
What condition were these dogs in? How bad were they?
The smell in the home was so overwhelming that both law enforcement and our staff needed to take regular breaks outside because the ammonia levels were so high. The walls and the floors were just covered in waste, the dogs were sliding around on it. We had two veterinarians on staff the day of the seizure and each dog received a medical examination on their way out of the house. They then spent the rest of the weekend doing further examinations. From what we can tell, there’s a range of medical concerns. Everything from eye issues to skin issues. Some of the dogs are thin. It’s going to be quite a road of recovery for these animals going forward.
Who covers that cost of that care?
So technically, under current New Hampshire law, the cost of care for animals seized in a cruelty investigation falls to the town in which the cruelty occurred. So if the Human Society wasn’t absorbing 100 percent of the cost, the town of Wolfeboro and by extension the taxpayers would be responsible for this, but we have committed to the town of Wolfeboro that we will cover 100 percent of the animal care costs of this case.
People will likely be interested in adopting – how will that work?
These animals are considered evidence under the law, and so we are essentially holding evidence as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, so we won’t be able to transfer them either into adoptive or foster homes until the conclusion of the case, and there’s no guarantee to that, either. We will certainly keep folks updated. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support for these animals, and rest assured, we are going to use that time wisely. We have already started them on medical treatments. We have behavioral experts and incredible volunteers who are working with them every single day to help with their rehabilitation.
Is there anything lawmakers in New Hampshire could do to help?
Absolutely. There are two pieces we want to highlight in this situation. The first is that New Hampshire has one of the weakest commercial breeder regulations in the Northeast. In order for someone to need to be regulated by the state, they need to sell 10 litters of puppies or 50 puppies in one year, which is an incredibly high bar and one that’s really difficult to enforce. Compare that to Vermont’s three litters of puppies a year. We would also urge the state to commit financial resources so that the state agencies have the resources to regulate these facilities.
The second piece is that the cost of these cases has been an ongoing challenge in the state of New Hampshire. In fact, the Governor’s Commission on the Humane Treatment of Animals is charged with looking at this issue and trying to find solutions to it. So we will be asking lawmakers and citizens to join us to look at those two issues moving forward.