More than 350 dogs and seven bunnies were taken from the Heavenly Kennel on Cumming Highway when the Cherokee County Marshals executed a search warrant Tuesday, said interim Chief Marshal Kevin Roach, who was on the scene Tuesday as the dogs were seized.
“Back in May, there was a complaint. A lady from North Carolina had bought a puppy from there and the puppy got sick and died,” Roach said, explaining how the investigation of the kennel began. “When animal control and marshals went out to the property, they saw all the dogs in cages and different deplorable conditions.”
Joy Wise, owner of the kennel, was cited by the Marshal’s Office in May for 264 animal cruelty offenses and 264 animal neglect offenses, as well as an ordinance violation for operating without a business license, court records show.
Wise pleaded not guilty in magistrate court Tuesday and requested a jury trial, Roach said.
Magistrate Judge James Drane granted the request, and the case was transferred from magistrate court to the State Court of Cherokee County, court records show.
While no arrests had been made Wednesday, Roach said the investigation is continuing and arrests are possible.
“There’s a possibility of more charges pending. Once we complete the report, there may be more charges,” Roach said.
Cherokee Animal Shelter Director Susan Garcia said the shelter is fully staffed and working around the clock to medically evaluate and examine each of the hundreds of dogs brought in from the raid.
Some of the dogs have serious illnesses, while others need vaccinations or cleaning.
“Each one has to be seen and evaluated; we put hands on all of them,” Garcia said.
“We go through a process, just like we would with the other animals that come in here, they get all the treatment.”
Garcia said she expected her team to finish evaluating the hundreds of dogs by today, despite most of the staff having less than three hours of sleep.
The shelter started taking in dogs from the raid Tuesday afternoon, and continued the operation past 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, Garcia said Wednesday.
Roach said officers went to the property Tuesday morning for a compliance check after warning the kennel owner to improve conditions for the dogs and get the animals proper vaccinations.
“They were given a warning,” Roach said. “When animal control went back out there on July 15 for a compliance check and the search warrant, the property had gotten worse and actually they had brought more dogs in.”
Animal control, officers, animal shelter staff, a veterinarian and animal activist Victoria Stilwell went back to the house Tuesday afternoon and began seizing the animals, Roach said.
“The dogs were being kept in unsanitary conditions and housed in cages. Underneath most of the cages were feces, urine and dog food that had fallen through the grates,” Roach added in a news release from the Marshal’s Office.
Inside the shelter Wednesday, a staff of just more than a dozen people, along with a couple volunteers, rushed around to make sure each animal got the attention it needed.
“We only have 14, including myself,” Garcia said. “We’re down two people right now.”
One of the rescue dogs gave birth to five puppies Tuesday, just hours after being brought to the shelter, and Garcia said many more of the dogs are pregnant.
One of the volunteers who was working long hours at the shelter Wednesday was Dr. Solveig Evans, a Gwinnett County Animal Control and forensic veterinarian who also works at the Hamilton Ridge Animal Hospital in Buford.
Evans pointed out four dogs with puppies and another dog with puppies due “any day.” Before she could get another word in, Evans had to rush to the aid of a sick dog, administering IVs in the animal’s arm.
While the shelter was clean and organized, Garcia said it can’t maintain the overcrowded conditions for long.
Officials said Wednesday the animals were not yet adoptable, as details in the case are still being handled in court.
Roach said the kennel is hidden “about a quarter mile down a dirt road” off of Cumming Highway, and not visible from the road.
“You’d never see it,” he said.
The Marshal’s Office plans to look into where the puppies might have been sold, and whether or not any were sold to pet stores.
The owner’s husband has not been charged, Roach said, since Wise claimed ownership of the dogs.
“Right now he has not been charged, but it’s possible he will be charged after further investigation,” he said.
Wise and the Heavenly Kennel can be found online on various dog breeder websites. Wise said on one website she had more than 35 years of dog breeding experience, mostly with small dogs, such as Chihuahuas, miniature schnauzers, mixed small breeds and Yorkshire terriers.