Officials seek homes for 371 Kennewick puppy mill dogs

Officials seek homes for 371 Kennewick puppy mill dogs
Rescue workers pull one of nearly 400 American Eskimo dogs from a puppy mill in Kennewick.
KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) - Now that 371 dogs have been rescued from an east Kennewick puppy mill, the problem is to find them good homes.

Fortunately, Benton County Sheriff Larry Taylor says, adoptions may start soon because the owner of the kennel has agreed to give the dogs up.

"As you can see, these little babies need to have a home," Taylor said Thursday as a fluffy white puppy nuzzled against his cheek. "Isn't she just darling?"

Taylor led dozens of detectives and specially trained volunteers Wednesday to confiscate the dogs from Sun Valley Kennel, which Humane Society officials called one of the nation's largest and worst puppy mills. It took more than 13 hours to move the animals - all miniature American Eskimo dogs - to the Benton County Fairgrounds, where temporary kennels had been set up.

All of the dogs needed some medical care and some needed extensive treatment, Taylor said.

Dogs were found living in wooden crates, shopping carts and other makeshift kennels caked with feces and soaked with urine, investigators said.

Kennel owner Ella Stewart contacted authorities Wednesday evening and agreed to give the dogs up, Taylor said Thursday.

Had she not agreed to give up the dogs, the sheriff's office would have had to keep control of them until her court case was completed. She has pleaded innocent to one count of second-degree animal cruelty in Benton County District Court, but could face additional charges.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful day," a beaming Taylor told the Tri-City Herald as he played with the 6-week-old puppy, now named Snowball.

The Humane Society of the United States is working to get the dogs into shelters across the state and possibly Oregon and Idaho so they can be adopted. The dogs range in age from being just 2 days old to their late teens. Two females are set to give birth.

The younger pups will need foster care until they're old enough to be adopted, while others may need extensive medical attention. Rescuers said some dogs had matted coats, urine burns, dental issues as a result of poor diet, bite wounds and old scarring.

Inga Gibson, state director with The Humane Society of the United States' West Coast regional office, said each dog has to have a comprehensive exam before they can be transferred to a shelter.

"The hope is to have the dogs moved out in a couple of days," Gibson said, adding that the dogs "can finally get into the loving homes that they deserve."

Stewart, 66, was arrested May 12 after a deputy found what investigators called deplorable conditions at her kennel while responding to an unrelated call at a neighbor's home. Officials waited two weeks before confiscating the dogs because the county doesn't have an animal control facility and needed time to set up temporary housing, arrange for veterinary care and line up volunteers.

Gibson called the kennel operation "definitely one of the worst cases we have seen because of the conditions they were kept in. It's one of the largest in Washington state and close to one of the largest in the country."

Scotlund Haisley, the society's senior director of emergency services, said Wednesday was the first time the dogs felt the security of having solid ground beneath them and "felt the kindness of the human touch."

"The resilience of these guys is absolutely phenomenal," Haisley said. "In one day ... we've watched them turn into the dogs they were meant to be."

Information on adopting the dogs can be found at The Humane Society's Web site.