“Allegations of puppy mills are not that common here. It’s a very unusual circumstance. We’ve really not had that problem.”
The above quote is from a 2008 article published by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Then-CA Dennis Lee had that to say after a seizure and arrest at the same address where [32 dogs were removed from a hoarding/puppy mill situation today.](https://www.facebook.com/tazewellcountysheriffsoffice/posts/2034978276540342?__xts__=68.ARBECiH1rOM__zdLYoIIehHYNooEPT7WY-9cxcaXLbwCVnlEJKbBECALVRdIgeY6gcnIUHchkn4fj096W-zECcThYCNQZfkwfoY1MsewLYopQKEaQNXA3TBpv2yUvUwg9ZR3wVpgUVKgDRT6EmaSB29IB87JYBFL2DR-UfwV28Vj5Y2T4V2iPg&__tn__=-R)
Let me go on record as saying that I applaud the quick response from the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office to reports of this problem. I exclude them from any remark made beyond this paragraph. They did a heck of a job mobilizing to help these dogs. The problems that led up to this incident did not come from that agency.
In 2013, my rescue organization began to inform county officials that indeed there is a problem with backyard breeders (unincorporated puppy mills) in Tazewell County, and the 62% kill rate at our local shelter was plenty of evidence to support our claim. David White, Director of the Tazewell County Animal Shelter, told Jim Spencer, then County Administrator, that he was very pleased with the performance of our shelter because it had passed state inspection seven years in a row, despite the deplorable kill rate, of which he wasn’t even aware until we told him.
Soon after these facts and statistics were presented to county administration, Ginny Dawson brought a folder full of charts and graphs and other propaganda to an Animal Shelter board meeting to “prove” how well our shelter performed in comparison to the other Pocket of Shame SW Virginia Counties: Russell and Buchanan. David White then expressed very clearly—actually said the words when pressed—that he had no interest in seeing the Tazewell County Animal Shelter become a no-kill facility.
I have my own issues with no-kill, as evidenced by the article published earlier this week by our Director. This doesn’t mean I oppose the practice. However, shortly after that meeting, an attorney employed by the County Attorney’s office was overheard at a local hair salon explaining to fellow clients that Tazewell ARC was a fraudulent organization, that they were processing several complaints against us, and that people should not under any circumstances donate to our rescue.
Getting back to the dogs seized today from the Jewell Ridge home—according to the information released on Facebook, they’ll go to the Tazewell County Animal Shelter to be held as evidence until the court date. I want every single one of you to stop whatever you’re doing, including reading the next paragraph of this post, and think about this for a minute: the Tazewell Shelter has approximately twenty runs. Thirty-two dogs were seized. Yes, many of them can be housed together. But what in the name of God and all things holy do you think happened to the dogs who were occupying those kennels when the sun came up this morning? Next, ponder this: according to information I FOIAed from the County Attorney’s office, in 2016 and 2017 the grand total of solid waste deposited in the Tazewell County Landfill was 228,240 pounds, or 114 U.S. tons. You really think all that was dog shit?
So here’s the next question. For the next month, or two months, or however long it takes for this case to be disposed, what do you think is going to happen to owner surrenders being led through the front door of a kill shelter with no available space? Remember that according to Virginia law, it’s legal to kill them immediately upon intake. What’s going to happen to every single stray after their five-day hold is up? We hope like heck that rescue organizations will line up to help after all the media attention. Will TARC? We’re forbidden from pulling dogs from the Tazewell Animal Shelter, remember? That hasn’t changed. Nor is it likely to, even though a legal case could easily be made to override David White’s mandate. Not a battle that interests me in the slightest.
What about the local Humane Society? They have no facility and few—if any–fosters. So good luck with that.
Tazewell County has gaslighted every nonprofit and private rescue agency that has ever tried to step in and help this community in any meaningful way. It’s not just us, although we’ve probably been the most vocal about it. Now, when social media has made it impossible to hide behind rhetoric and bully tactics like the Good Old Boys (and Gals) did in years past, it’s a whole new ballgame. Do I think its possible that outside agencies will step in to help? Sure. There’s going to be plenty of mainstream media coverage about this, most likely to the deep chagrin of the Mountain Mafia. But my sincere hope is that all the people shown in these Facebook images of officials and officers and county personnel wading knee-deep in dog shit, handling dogs who look like they’re crawling with fleas and mange and all manner of parasites and fungus, will finally get a good, hard dose of what front-line rescuers have to deal with EVERY SINGLE DAY. Welcome to our world, Princes and Princesses. You think THAT house was rough? You ain’t seen nothing like the crap we save dogs from all the time, at our own personal expense, amidst ridicule and persecution from residents and county officials alike. Oh, yeah…also in the face of public accusations by Humane Society volunteers that we are hoarders ourselves. (Yes, we still have the screenshot of that comment so I don’t advise starting a war to deny it. Bad, bad optics, and not for us.)
If this doesn’t wake some people up around here to the dire need for social and political responsibility regarding animal welfare in Central Appalachia, it’s doubtful anything will. Go ahead and continue with Dennis Lee’s legacy of “we’ve really not had that problem.” Keep letting the REAL rescuers go unfunded, unsupported, and harassed by people on county and city payroll. Just remember that the world is watching you now, Tazewell County. It’s up to you, how you look in the eyes of an international society that regularly compares you to a Third World country. I really do hope you step up and start the long process of making all this right. Despite everything I’ve reminded you of in previous paragraphs, Iwill support an honest effort.