The house on Hilton Lake Road was unremarkable, a brick one-story with an under-watered lawn and a scrimshaw of patchy shrubs.
It was flanked by bigger and smarter homes on a two-lane strip in Cabarrus County, 25 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, but nothing about it suggested to passersby that inconceivable cruelty lived at this address.
It wasn’t till we opened the side-yard entrance that the horror inside announced itself. A stench of complex poisons pushed out: cat piss and dog shit and mold and bleach commingled into a cloud of raw ammonia that singed the hair in our nostrils.
Twenty of us – blue-shirted staffers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); several members of their forensic camera crew; the sheriff of Cabarrus County and his deputies; and a contingent of veterinarians from a local animal hospital – tiptoed around the filth underfoot into a house caked in pet fur and waste.
Damp laundry draped across every flat surface; the floor was a maze of cat crates and garbage. From somewhere in the house, we heard the howling of dogs, but they weren’t in the bedrooms or the tumbledown john or the kitchen piled high with dishes.
Then we found the door that led to the basement. Down there, dozens of puppies in dust-cloaked cages stood on their hind legs and bawled. There were Yorkies and poodles and Maltese mixes, but their fur was so matted and excrement-mottled it was hard to tell which from which.
Bred for profit, most of them would have been sold in pet stores or on websites by their third or fourth month of life.
HSUS staffers had gathered evidence that the breeder, Patricia Yates, was selling puppies on multiple websites without a license, and had a stack of buyer complaints lodged against her. But it took a tip from an anonymous source to alert the Sheriff’s office to the scale of Yates’s operation.
“We’d been out there before, but had no idea it was this severe,” says Lt. David Taylor, an animal-control cop who helped launch the investigation. Obtaining an arrest warrant was the least of it, though.
When you bust an illegal kennel, you’re suddenly swamped with sick dogs, often double what had been reported.
It took Taylor a month to coordinate with HSUS – the rare non-profit with the money and equipment to house and treat puppy-mill rescues – before launching the raid on Yates’s kennel.
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