(CNN)It's hard to imagine a mansion serving as a house of horrors. But that's exactly what it looked like inside of Christina Fay's Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, home last June, when 75 Great Danes — yes, 75 — were found in horrible conditions.
This case shows why dog breeders need to be regulated
The charging documents I obtained lay out the disturbing details: sores on the legs, lesions covering the body, ear infections and conjunctivitis in their eyes. Some dogs had even gone blind. Many were forced to either lay down in or walk through feces and dangerously high ammonia levels. There was little light or ventilation, the documents say, and food and water was scarce.
In the end, two puppies and two adult dogs had to be euthanized, according to the the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Luckily, most survived, despite illness and horrendous injuries.
The HSUS said that Fay was an unlicensed commercial dog breeder. They told me that "conservatively there are about 10,000 puppy mills in the US with about 2,100 being licensed by USDA. But some of those other 8,000 (or more!) sometimes have a state ag dept license."
Despite warnings, many of these unlicensed breeders continue to operate illegally.
Isn't it time we strengthen the animal welfare laws? Often, breeders like Fay are issued citations but continue to operate. The HSUS said Fay was warned in Maine but was able to simply pick up stakes and move her unlicensed operation to New Hampshire. No questions asked.
Legislation must be passed to hold breeders accountable. And where is the United States Department of Agriculture in all of this? It doesn't even inspect dog breeders who sell to consumers in person, according to the LA Times.
Luckily, a bipartisan bill has been introduced by New Hampshire state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, that would strengthen penalties in cases of animal cruelty. As New Hampshire's Governor Chris Sununu has said, the bill would make sure that the "horrendous treatment of the Great Danes from Wolfeboro never happens again."
A New Hampshire jury convicted Fay in March on 17 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. In court, Fay's defense team insisted she provided the dogs with outstanding care, but the jury didn't buy it. A veterinarian testified in court that the conditions inside Fay's home were the worst she had ever seen in all her investigations of animal cruelty cases, according to the HSUS.
One of the saddest things about this, as any dog or pet owner knows, is that dogs can't speak up for themselves. They were trapped in this House of Horrors, inside their kennels, with no way to ask for help. The woman raising them certainly wasn't looking out for them. We need more voices for the voiceless so heartbreaking situations like this don't continue to happen.
Lindsay Hamrick, New Hampshire's Director for the Humane Society of the United States, described it like this: "It was a horrendous environment. When I walked in, there was an overwhelming stench of feces and urine. We were sliding on the floor. The ammonia level was so high people were gagging and their eyes were watering."
In addition to that, "the dogs were covered in their own waste. They were walking in their own waste."
Of course there are legitimate breeders who are dedicated to finding loving homes for dogs out there. If you do choose to work with a breeder, just be sure to do your homework.
I've always been a big proponent of adopting and rescuing dogs, which is why I went through a rescue group to adopt my golden retriever.
In Fay's case, she seemed to only be looking to make a buck. Hamrick of HSUS is quick to point out, "in cases that involve breeders, there is a financial component, and the demand for the puppies is driving that."
How could anyone think this was okay? Fay had been operating under the radar of law enforcement in New Hampshire for two years, according to the HSUS. The Humane Society of the United States learned of the conditions at the woman's home from the Wolfeboro police department, which needed HSUS' help in caring for the dogs after they were removed from the home.
"I think the most frustrating part of this is that they were housed inside kennels. They don't get to choose to go out and get water or get their own food. They had to live with this feeling until law enforcement showed up. They were stuck," said Hamrick.
In addition to the 75 dogs seized from the home in New Hampshire, another nine puppies that belonged to Fay were also seized from a local vet. So in all, this woman was responsible for 84 dogs. Of those, the HSUS said that 80 dogs are still under its care.
After seizing the dogs, HSUS set up a makeshift shelter in New Hampshire to care for them and nurse them back to health. They hired staff and brought in volunteers. In all, HSUS said it has spent $1.3 million dollars rescuing these dogs.
There's a chance that Fay will be asked to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution toward the care of these dogs, but in most cases the Humane Society never sees that money simply because these irresponsible breeders don't have the cash. Fay will be sentenced in the next month or so and could get a year in jail for each count, so she could see up to 17 years in jail.
The good news is that HSUS is working with the New Hampshire state legislature to get comprehensive reform. The bill that was introduced by state Sen. Bradley puts the financial burden of caring for rescued animals on those responsible for the cruelty, rather than nonprofits and taxpayers. It passed the Senate and is now making its way to the House.
Barring any appeals, the Great Danes who were rescued will likely be up for adoption in the next few months. I only hope they find loving forever homes.
Meanwhile, it's important to note that this isn't the first case of an unlicensed breeder in the state of New Hampshire. HSUS said in the last year and a half there have been four cases similar to this. According to Hamrick, the state of New Hampshire "is not adequately regulating folks who are breeding."
"They need more state oversight," Hamrick said.
Amen to that.