On the outside, it appeared to be a well-maintained property in Jones County, Mississippi, with several buildings, a neatly mowed lawn and pine trees scattered around 161 sprawling acres of land. But what our Animal Rescue Team and local law enforcement officials from the Jones County Sheriff’s Department found when they entered some of the buildings on the property today was shocking.
Locked inside crates were dozens of emaciated dogs and cats, including some who were sick. Many of the animals were covered in fleas and appeared to suffer from a lack of veterinary care. The place was filthy and disgusting.
Four of the dogs had to be transported out of the property immediately for urgent medical care. Altogether, our team removed approximately 65 dogs and 30 cats from the property.
The Animal Rescue Team of the Humane Society of the United States has conducted hundreds of such rescues over the years, and they’ve seen some terrible instances of animal suffering and neglect. Yet each time, they tell me, they are shocked anew by the suffering of animals trapped in difficult situations from which they have no escape. Thankfully, this day was going to be different.
“It was a heart-wrenching scene and I am happy we were called in to assist. We are always eager to offer animals relief and expert care,” said Sára Varsa, vice president of the Animal Rescue Team, who was on site for the rescue today.
The Jones County Sheriff’s Department contacted us for help after representatives of Southern Cross Animal Rescue, a local organization based in nearby Laurel, Mississippi, raised concerns about the welfare of animals on the property. As Sheriff Alex Hodge stated to our staff, “Our pets are our family and deserve a healthy atmosphere. Situations like these, though this particular incident seems quite massive, are more than unfortunate, they are unfair and unnecessary.”
Dr. Kirk Frazier from All Animals Veterinary Clinic provided medical care for the animals at the site. The animals are being transported to a temporary emergency shelter in a nearby location, where they will be thoroughly examined and will receive veterinary medical treatment. Responders from RedRover, an organization that specializes in providing help to animals in crisis situations, will assist in the caretaking of the animals at the temporary shelter. A generous donation has been made by the Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust to support the expert care and supplies needed for the rescued animals.
This case highlights the need for stronger laws in Mississippi to protect animals from cruelty. Mississippi is one of only two states in the nation without felony penalties for egregious animal cruelty, such as torture or starvation, on the first offense. No matter how depraved an act of animal cruelty is, law enforcement can only charge the offender with a misdemeanor if they don’t have a previous conviction for animal cruelty.
The HSUS and local advocates have worked for many years to pass legislation that would bring Mississippi in line with the rest of the country. Earlier this year, Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden introduced legislation that would have corrected this disparity, but, as with prior years, the state legislature declined to hold a public hearing on the bill.
We will continue to fight for stronger laws in Mississippi and elsewhere, but for now, we are happy that the animals rescued today are safe. This is an open investigation and we will share what we can in the coming days. As Sára said, “Tonight in our temporary shelter, we hope the animals get some rest. In the morning, there is a new day ahead of them.”