The sights were unimaginable.
The sounds were heartbreaking.
The faces of volunteers from the SPCA of Bradley County told the whole story as they rushed to find help and shelter for more than 240 puppies found at a McDonald residence Wednesday afternoon, and the organization is reaching out to anyone who can help with their rescue.
According to Bobbi Anderson, SPCA county animal shelter director, she received a call earlier in the day about a potential “puppy mill” after the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office responded to a “verbal domestic” call at 1420 Candies Creek Road around 9:18 a.m.
Anderson took a reporter from the Cleveland Daily Banner to the rear of the residence of Rebecca Vanmeter, where cages to the rear and side of the house held 24 to 36 puppies.
The majority of the puppies were found in a large, wooden shack-like building in the rear of the house.
Before entering, Anderson said, “I warn you, you will cry.”
The puppies in the darkened building were held in two long aisles with double decker, chicken-coop style holding areas.
A side room held an additional group of puppies.
“Just on observation, I would say 90 percent require some type of veterinary care,” Anderson said in theorizing many, if not most of the pups, had never seen the outside of their small cage.
Symptoms of mange and eye disease were the most prominent, with one puppy in immediate view having lost most of its hair.
Sanitation concerns had obviously been long ignored as any water or bedding were contaminated with urine and feces causing a stench that was stomach-churning at best.
There were as many as five and six in each separate section, some appearing to be as young as only days old.
One SPCA volunteer noted the appearance of inbreeding having occurred.
Upon seeing the volunteers working to help them, the barks and yelps from the pups became more and more deafening.
At one point during the walkthrough, Anderson bent down to comfort one puppy that had gotten loose but was barely able to stand, its hind legs seemingly having lost strength.
Anderson said Vanmeter told her she began collecting the dogs as a way of “rescuing them from people affected by hurricanes.”
“She knows she needs help,” Anderson said, suggesting it appears to be more of a case of hoarding than what might be considered a for-profit, “puppy mill” type of business.
As Anderson took the Banner representative to observe the rear building where the majority of the dogs were kept, Vanmeter walked alongside, having been shown the reporter’s credentials along with his camera and a personal introduction from the reporter.
“If you put my name and all over the news, it will compromise placing a lot of the dogs,” the resident told the Banner.
She stopped short of following the reporter and Anderson into the rear building and never voiced an objection to the Banner's presence or photography.
However, after the BCSO investigators arrived on the scene and media outlets from Chattanooga began arriving, she told investigators she did not want media on her property.
At that point, all media personnel were requested to move to the bottom of the residence's driveway.
Vanmeter agreed to sign over the dogs to the custody of the SPCA, but she would not do the same for the 12 dogs that were reported to be kept in the residence.
Anderson said the shelter is currently at capacity and the SPCA has put out a broad net in search of animal rescue organizations willing to help.
There has already been some response to those calls as a few Chattanooga-area organizations have either already collected some of the pups or have pledged to do so.
Anderson said it is great to have that assistance — but far more is needed.
“We need the community to come together and help,” Anderson said. “There’s just too many. Nobody is set up for that many.”
SPCA board member and 4th District County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said she was shocked by the discovery.
“This is unbelievable in Bradley County,” Peak-Jones said. “I’m confident the SPCA can handle it.”
SPCA is calling for the following items to help aid with the puppies’ well-being:
- Financial donations. The Paypal account is email@example.com.
- Adoptions. Anderson said “money is not important right now,” adding anyone who would want to adopt the puppies would not be charged the normal adoption fee. The beagles will not be made immediately available for adoption.
- Supplies. Items such as bowls, leashes, crates and dog food can be brought to the animal shelter.
- Volunteers. Help is needed to feed, water and exercise animals maintained by the SPCA. The organization is asking volunteers to email firstname.lastname@example.org before going, in order to ensure volunteers are scheduled to cover all shifts.
When asked if she had ever seen a situation such as this concerning animals, Anderson’s response was quick and blunt.
“Never,” she said.
BCSO Public Information Officer Bob Gault said as of Thursday morning no charges had been filed and the investigation was continuing.