Case Snapshot
Case ID: 16320
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Friday, Apr 9, 2010

County: Guilford

Charges: Misdemeanor, Felony CTA
Disposition: Alleged
Case Images: 2 files available

Alleged:
» Sheila Marie Rush Savage
» Robert Landreth

Case Updates: 5 update(s) available

Authorities have seized 97 dogs from a Pleasant Garden kennel as part of a four-month investigation into what Sheriff BJ Barnes called “a puppy mill out of control.”

So far, no charges have been filed against the owner of Rush Kennel or her employees. The investigation by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is ongoing.

Sheila Rush Savage, owner of the business at 6324 Maplewood St., could not be reached for comment.

Her son said the 12-year-old kennel has a quality record.

“This has nothing to do with cruelty to animals,” said Tyler Rush as he stood outside the family business Thursday. “These dogs weren’t malnourished or anything.”

The dogs were taken to the Guilford County Animal Shelter. Officials there who viewed and examined the animals said:

* Two Chihuahuas will require surgery. One has a busted left eye socket, which has left the dog blind. The other has a puncture to her side that allows air to leak from her lungs.

* A 10- to 12-year-old greyhound is missing much of her lower jaw and nearly all of her teeth from poor dental care. The dog is pregnant. A shelter veterinarian said the dog shouldn’t have been bred after age 2 or 3.

* An adult Weimaraner is malnourished to the point where the outline of his ribs and hip bones could be seen through his skin. Officials said the dog weighs about 40 pounds, but should weigh about 75 pounds.

* Other dogs have dozens of ticks -- more than 30 on one greyhound; mammary tumors; bloody diarrhea; heartworms; missing teeth; bruising; and open wounds.

Sheriff’s officials said the investigation began in December and progressed as authorities received complaints from 14 customers regarding sick dogs purchased from the kennel, including at least one dog that died.

Undercover deputies purchased a toy poodle from the kennel and it died within two weeks.

On Wednesday, officials spent 12 hours at the kennel, seizing the dogs and records.

Officials declined to describe the dogs’ living conditions.

The dogs are being examined to determine the full scope of their health problems. Findings will be turned over to the district attorney’s office.

“The conditions they had going on out there came down to nothing more than nastiness,” the sheriff said.

Barnes said detectives found several cases of upset customers. In one instance, a customer asked to see the parents of a puppy. The father was dragged out on a choke chain and threw up. “The mother of the dog couldn’t even stand up,” he said.

Robin Breedlove of Asheboro said she purchased a Weimaraner from the kennel in 1999, but the dog was diagnosed with a neurological hip disorder, which caused her to have him euthanized before he turned 4 years old.

“He had problems walking up and down steps, running and he fell all the time,” Breedlove said of her dog Bentley.

She called Savage to find out if there were problems with other puppies in the litter.

“She said there was no way they would have a disorder,” Breedlove said. “She said she was in charge of the breeding and that none of her dogs have any genetic neurological conditions. I got a not-so-friendly vibe when I made that call.”

On the kennel’s Web site, a guest book boasts dozens of happy customers. Attempts to contact them for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

Tyler Rush said the kennel always has acted quickly with customer complaints.

“We’ve always had complaints, but we always gave them back their money,” Rush said. “Each customer signs a contract saying after the first year, Rush Kennels is not liable for any defects.”

Sheila Savage, who then was Sheila Rush , appeared on the ABC reality show “Wife Swap” in 2007.

In an interview with the News & Record about the TV show, Savage said many of her dogs lived indoors with the family and ate filet mignon on china, while the family ate off paper plates. The dogs were pampered with wardrobes and jewelry, and they slept in her king-sized bed.

“I think a lot of people will relate to me because a lot of people do treat their dogs like children,” Savage said of her appearance on television.


Case Updates

The owner of the Pleasant Garden kennel at the center of an animal cruelty investigation hasn’t paid a court-ordered bond and as a result, has given up ownership of her dogs, the county attorney said Wednesday.

The dogs are available for adoption at the Guilford County Animal Shelter.

On April 26, a judge ordered Sheila Savage, owner of Rush Kennel, to pay a $50,400 bond that would have covered the care of dogs held at the shelter since April 7.

Savage had five days to pay the bond, but did not do so. The county now owns the animals, County Attorney Mark Payne said Wednesday.

Savage’s attorney did not return a call Wednesday.

The dogs were seized after a four-month undercover investigation by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office and county animal control.

The investigation came as a result of 14 complaints from customers who said puppies they bought suffered from a variety of illnesses and were infested with parasites.

Officers in the undercover investigation bought a toy poodle puppy in late March and found it was sick, authorities said. The puppy died within two weeks, leading authorities to raid the kennel on April 7 and seize 97 dogs from what Sheriff BJ Barnes called “a puppy mill out of control.”

Marsha Williams, director of the animal shelter, said many of the dogs are being prepared for adoption, while others are going to rescue groups " including Weimaraners and possibly Italian Greyhounds.

“The response for the dogs has been overwhelming for us,” she said. “We are asking anyone who wants to adopt to come in and fill out an application. We are only asking for serious adopters because of the great interest.”

Williams said anyone interested must be willing to deal with the dogs’ issues, including temperament, the need for house training and medical problems.

“They need to be willing to invest the time and effort in caring for them because it’s not going to be an easy transition,” she said.

The shelter is also looking for families to foster the dogs temporarily.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 101 dogs from Rush Kennel at the shelter. Twenty-one have been lined up to be adopted or be handed over to rescue groups. The total is higher than the number of dogs seized because some have since given birth to puppies.

Savage and Robert Landreth, a caretaker at the kennel, have been charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty, five of which are felonies. They are out of jail on bond.

Savage is scheduled to appear in court June 15 on the criminal charges. Landreth is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.
Source: News-Record.com - May 6, 2010
Update posted on Jun 2, 2010 - 4:43PM 
County leaders want a woman accused of running a puppy mill to pay for her seized dogs.

Guilford County Animal Shelter Executive Director Marsha Williams filed a petition seeking a bond for $51,825 from Rush Kennel owner Sheila Savage.

Williams says that's the expected cost of caring for her animals for thirty days. "I do believe that either she needs to pay the fee or surrender them over to us so that we can put them in permanent homes or rescue groups," said Williams.

Investigators seized 97 dogs from Savage's Rush Kennel in Pleasant Garden on April 7th.

Since then, four dogs have been born and four have died. Two of the dead were newborns.

"We have a lot of parasites, a lot of parvo with these dogs," said Williams. She adds three labradors had to be hospitalized because they were sick with the parvo virus. They were treated with antibiotics and blood transfusions. One did not survive.

"It has really cost us a lot of money," said Williams. "We had to do some eye surgery, still have some surgeries that need to be done. We had to do some leg surgeries on some of the animals, X-rays."

Savage's lawyer, Kent Lively, says on Monday he'll be fighting to get the dogs back. He says some are Savage's household pets and there's no reason for the county to hold them.

Savage and her employee, Robert Landreth, each face 12 counts of animal cruelty in the case.
Source: DigTriad - April 25, 2010
Update posted on Apr 26, 2010 - 2:38AM 
On its Web site, Rush Kennel bills itself as "North Carolina's No. 1 dog kennel," a place where Weimaraners, Labrador retrievers and other breeds frolic in a fenced play yard before the day ends with a massage, pool bath and pedicure.

"We pamper our dogs and make them feel great all over," proclaims the Web site for the kennel, which is owned by Pleasant Garden businesswoman Sheila Rush Savage.

But the Guilford County Sheriff's Office and the county Animal Shelter say they found something quite different last week in searching the kennel, after a four-month investigation of the breeding operation that sold purebred puppies for up to $800 each.

Investigators discovered filthy conditions that included large amounts of dog and rat feces, foul drinking water, malnourished dogs infested with such parasites as hookworms and heartworms, some dogs with rampant dental decay, others with severe lacerations and at least one with an eye infection so severe the eye must be removed.

Live electrical wires were strung across the cages, apparently to prevent the dogs from getting out, shelter director Marsha Williams said.

"In front, it looked very nice, very clean and very professional. It was behind the wooden privacy fence where you saw the issues," said Williams, who helped deputies check out the kennel during their Wednesday raid.

Efforts to reach Savage and other kennel personnel for comment Saturday were unsuccessful. In the aftermath of last week's raid, the 53-year-old dog breeder faces charges of animal cruelty, as does the shelter's caretaker, Robert Landreth, 61.

After the two turned themselves in Friday, their lawyer said they had explanations for all the allegations and predicted they'll be exonerated.

For example, attorney Kent Lively said, a rail-thin Weimaraner taken from the kennel and pictured recently in the News & Record was not underfed.

"(The dog) is an elderly dog and they tend to lose weight at 10 or 11 years old," Lively said in an interview Friday. "She (Savage) doesn't allow any of her dogs to be malnourished, is what she tells me."

Before last week's arrest, Savage was in the news during a 2007 stint on ABC's "Wife Swap" reality show, where much was made of her affection for her nine Chihuahuas and poodles.

But evidence emerging so far in the case shows that the animal shelter, Guilford County Animal Control officers and the local Better Business Bureau have been concerned about Savage's kennel for years.

The shelter took in 40 to 50 abandoned dogs from Savage in the past eight or nine years, Williams said.

"We would have to treat them for whatever illness or other problems they had," she said. "They were not in very good shape when they were brought in to us. She said they were tired, like they were too old or she didn't want to breed them anymore."
The shelter did not pursue its own investigation of Rush Kennel because it lacked the authority, Williams said: "Animal Control was bringing them (the dogs) to us for her. We assumed they didn't have any problems with her at that time."

A spokesman for Guilford's animal control program declined to comment on the situation, saying that it involves an ongoing investigation.

Last week's arrests are the crest of a larger "puppy mill" problem triggered by North Carolina's lack of a law requiring such operations be licensed and open to inspection by regulators, said Kimberly Alboum, state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

"I have animal control officers contacting me all the time from around the state saying, 'Look, I have what I consider to be a puppy mill here,' " Alboum said. "But there's nothing they can do about it."

Kennels are licensed and regularly inspected by the state Department of Agriculture only if they breed dogs for sale to pet stores or to research laboratories.

No state law specifically protects dogs raised in such kennels as the Rush facility, where they were sold directly to the public. They are protected only by an all-purpose animal cruelty statute focused mainly on requiring adequate food, water and shelter, Alboum said.

That could change after the General Assembly convenes in May when the House takes up the so-called "Puppy Mill Bill," a proposal that has already been approved by the state Senate. The bill would license kennels that sell directly to the public through the Department of Agriculture, and give local animal control officers more authority to inspect their operations.

Building a criminal case using only the existing animal-cruelty law is difficult and time-consuming, said the Humane Society's Alboum, adding she's not surprised it took Guilford investigators four months to bring charges against Rush Kennel.

Sparked by a letter to the sheriff's office from a Pennsylvania couple last November, the local investigation eventually unearthed a total of 18 complaints made against Rush Kennel with Guilford animal control officers, the Better Business Bureau and the state Department of Agriculture.

Sheriff's investigators relied on those complaints, plus evidence from their own undercover dealings with the kennel, in persuading a judge to issue the warrant allowing them to search the Pleasant Garden compound and, ultimately, seize the 97 dogs housed there.

Complaints to the various agencies included:

* A Winston-Salem woman who purchased two poodles last May. One died from worms two days after purchase. The other was diagnosed with glaucoma.

* A South Carolina woman who said she went to purchase a Weimaraner puppy from the kennel. She asked to see the dog's parents and but was told "that it wasn't allowed," and also told she could not see where the dogs were kept.

* A man who reported the puppy he picked up from the kennel in January was infected with worms and parasites, and very underweight. The man said he called the kennel to request copies of X-rays and veterinary records, but an employee refused and became defensive before hanging up on him.

* A woman who purchased a Weimaraner puppy in 2003. At 22 months the dog developed a "terrible cough, began to appear thin and began to tire easily." The dog was diagnosed with "multiple heart defects and congestive heart failure." The dog had to be euthanized. The woman wrote that a cardiologist told her the dog's conditions were hereditary and "a breeder should not have bred a dog with the defect."

* A New York woman who said the Yorkshire terrier puppy she bought in June 2008 arrived at her residence "obviously sick, urinating on itself, lethargic, and "it smelled bad" and "it was not moving." The woman said she received no medical records with the dog and took it to a veterinarian, where the puppy died.

But Rush Kennel has a mixed record in Guilford County civil court, where it has faced seven lawsuits by disgruntled customers over the years. Two cases were settled out of court, one was dismissed on procedural grounds, and Rush won two and lost two to former customers.

Savage and kennel caretaker Landreth are free on bond now, each facing seven, felony counts of animal cruelty and five misdemeanor allegations of the same crime.

If convicted, they likely would face a maximum penalty of 52 to 56 months of probation under state sentencing guidelines because neither has a criminal record.

Whatever happens in the case, the animal shelter's Williams will long remember the ugly conditions she saw last week at the place that advertised, "Our top priority is the health and well-being of every dog."

"It's just hard to have compassion for someone who does that," she said of the conditions she observed. "You want to say: Put some of that money back into the animals that are helping you."
Source: News-Record - April 12, 2010
Update posted on Apr 26, 2010 - 2:34AM 
The owner of a Pleasant Garden kennel and an employee have been charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty following the seizure of 97 dogs from the business earlier this week.

Sheila Marie Savage, 53, the owner of Rush Kennel, and Robert Landreth, 61, a caretaker, were charged Friday with seven counts of felony animal cruelty and five counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

Late Friday, Landreth was released on a $5,000 bond; Savage posted a $10,000 bond and was released.

Authorities have said more charges are possible as an investigation continues.

“She is resolved to see this through. I feel my client will be vindicated,” said Kent Lively, Savage’s attorney, as the woman was booked into jail Friday afternoon.

“I think she has taken good care of her animals as entrusted to the care of Rush Kennel. These few exceptional circumstances that the law enforcement has seen fit to focus on so we’ll have to resolve in court.”

The case comes after a four-month investigation at the facility. It started with a letter from a Pennsylvania couple to the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, according to a search warrant.

The couple had written to say the toy poodle they purchased at the kennel had “parasites that were sucking the life out of him” according to a veterinarian.

The dog suffered from worms and bloody stools and a veterinarian stated that based on his condition “it came from a very dirty place,” the warrant states.

The investigation grew to include more than 14 complaints, authorities said.

An undercover deputy and animal control officer, posing as boyfriend and girlfriend, purchased a dog that was analyzed by a veterinarian with the Guilford County Animal Shelter.

“The dog ended up dying because it was full of worms, ill and was sold as a perfectly healthy dog,” said Sheriff BJ Barnes. “We have received numerous calls from folks who were victimized.”

According to the warrant, the complaints involved 18 dogs of varying breeds. In each case, the dog was sick, and some either died or had to be euthanized.

Health problems included dogs that had mange, worms, coughing, chronic vomiting, improperly removed dew claws, malnutrition, glaucoma, low blood sugar, heart failure, heart murmurs, loss of bladder control, diarrhea, constant bleeding, yeast infections, hip problems, anemia and ear mites, among other problems.

Many complaints dealt with dogs that wouldn’t eat, were aggressive and lunged at people.

A South Carolina woman told an animal control officer she adopted a Weimaraner puppy in 2007 from Rush that she said developed social problems after turning one.

The dog, named “Sophie” attacked four people, including a 4-year-old girl.

“Sophie attacked a contractor at (the woman’s) front door and “bit a huge chunk out of his leg and shredded his pants,” the warrant states.

The woman hired a dog trainer, but the dog “broke through a door and attacked that trainer.”

“Sophie” also attacked three dogs before the family finally had her euthanized last May.

Many of the complaints also stated that Savage was unresponsive when issues were presented to her by often denying the medical problems and refusing to give refunds.

The warrant states in many cases there were discrepancies over the dogs’ birth dates, parents, ages and medical histories.

Barnes said compiling the information took time.

“We didn’t want to have a losing case,” Barnes said. “We wanted to make sure what we had was real and make sure it stood up in court.”

Lively said his client is looking forward to clearing her name.

“All we ask is a fair shake,” Lively said. “My client is concerned about animals. She’s an animal lover. She wouldn’t do anything to harm any animals or give them less than good care, and she’s been at this a long time.”
Source: News-Record - April 12, 2010
Update posted on Apr 26, 2010 - 2:29AM 
The owner and an employee of a kennel subject to a puppy mill investigation are out of jail on bond.

Sheila Savage, owner of Rush Kennel in Pleasant Garden, and Robert Landreth, an employee at the facility, both face 12 counts of animal cruelty.

Dora Majkowski of Greensboro said she bought a dog from Rush Kennel in 2001. The problems with her dog Lucy started a few months later, she said.

"You name it, he had it," said Majkowski. "It was just one thing after another. Pancreatitis, arthritis at a very young age and that first problem of having to be neutered, it was a genetic problem passed down from the father dog."

Majkowski said veterinarians told her Lucy's medical issues were a result of bad breeding. She said she didn't want to return Lucy to Savage in fear of what would happen. "I felt like if she would have taken him back she would have euthanized him because he wouldn't have made money for her at that point."

Lucy's medical problems continued for eight years. "I was having to give him IV's at home to flush his kidneys twice a week and he was getting so weak and he would just look at me like, not again," said Majkowski. She said she spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on medical bills.

She eventually made the decision to put Lucy down because of how much he was suffering. She said it's about time Savage was arrested.

Savage's attorney, Kent Lively, said, "When the truth comes out, everything's going to be resolved in my client's favor. For 12 years she has been a reputable business woman, she has sold thousands of dogs and had only a few complaints."

"She's an animal lover, takes good care of her pets and takes care of the dogs entrusted to her care," said Lively.

In the the search warrant for Rush Kennel, there at least 18 complaints from people in several states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.
Source: DigTriad - April 9, 2010
Update posted on Apr 26, 2010 - 2:36AM 

References

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