Nearly 100 dogs were rescued Sunday from a property in Coffee County, Tennessee, where officials say they were living in total darkness inside rusted-shut cages and windowless barn stalls.
“They were statues. They were shut down and ready to die,” Scotlund Haisley, president of Animal Rescue Corps, which led the rescue operation, told The Huffington Post. “They had been suffering a very long time. I saw little to no emotion, and when I did see an emotion, I saw fear.”
ARC dubbed the rescue effort "Operation Midnight Run." Volunteer ARC photographer Amiee Stubbs took numerous photos of the scene and the subsequent rescue.
WARNING: The following photos depict extreme animal neglect and may be disturbing to some readers.
According to an ARC press release, the dogs were a variety of purebred breeds, though some had such heavily matted fur that the breed could not be immediately identified. The majority of the dogs were adults.
Coffee County Sheriff’s Sergeant Danny Ferrell told local news station WKRN that as soon as law enforcement came on the scene, “it was immediately obvious” that they would need help getting the animals off the property. He said ARC helped them “both document the scene and safely remove the animals.”
The dogs were surrounded by trash and many were living in several inches of their own waste, according to an ARC press release. Haisley told HuffPost that many of the dogs had “significant acid burns” caused by the acidity of their own urine. Many of the emaciated animals had both internal and external parasites.
Ten dead dogs were also found on the property, piled in a wheelbarrow. Haisley believes their deaths were due to starvation.
Despite their dire conditions, the rescued dogs have been coping well since being found.
“Something magical happened that I had never seen before in by 26-year-old long career,” Haisley told HuffPost. “When we brought everyone out, they all did the same thing. They shot their noses up to the sky, and what we believe they were doing was absorbing the sunshine and the oxygen.”
Several cats who were roaming loose on the property were also rescued.
The property owner, who sheriff’s officials identified as 64-year-old Caroline Irby, is facing 10 counts of animal cruelty and was booked into the Coffee County Jail, according to the Daily News Journal. Sergeant Ferrell told the DNJ that Irby had become overwhelmed with the number of animals in her care.
Those who know Irby have expressed surprise at the allegations. Dr. Jeff Keene, a former colleague of Irby’s at a veterinary clinic in Manchester, told local news station WSMV Irby was “a very dedicated employee, beloved by her clients, active in the Humane Society for years.”
A neighbor, Jimmy Stotts, told WSMV Irby “seems like a nice lady” and he “didn’t expect her to be hoarding dogs.”
With the help of an owner of a local empty warehouse, ARC has set up an emergency shelter for the animals, where they are receiving veterinary care and grooming, and are learning how to socialize with people. They will ultimately be transferred to the care of other rescue groups and animal shelters.