An animal protection organization removed 65 dogs from a suspected dog fighting operation in Cheatham County on Thanksgiving night, most of which are beginning their rehabilitation in Lebanon.
The dogs found on Buckeye Road in Ashland City, about 35 minutes west of Nashville, by an Animal Rescue Corps rescue mission called Operation Broken Chain.
"The dogs were mostly pit bull terriers and beagles and a few hounds," said Californian Michael Cunningham with ARC, which hit the ground running in Tennessee as the group spread the word about the emergency situation nationwide. The dogs all required medical attention after they were discovered chained in the woods without food or water by the Ashland City and Pleasant View Fire Departments.
"We have 60 of the dogs here," Cunningham said Monday afternoon at the Cumberland Valley Shows warehouse in Lebanon.
Inside, the facility volunteers were busy Monday keeping the dogs' individual cages clean and delivering them one at a time to the two medical clinics set up on site to get each dog the medical help they need.
"We have two med stations here with vets and vet techs and every dog will be examined and their medical conditions documented," he said. "They will get their vaccinations and be treated for internal parasites."
The fire departments discovered the animals when responding to a report of a brush fire call at the property.
Firefighters called Cheatham County Animal Control, which identified the situation as a possible dog fighting and breeding operation, Cunningham said the brush fire turned out to be a life saver since the dogs are kept on large chains and those chains killed the vegetation around the dogs which in turn created a firebreak that allowed the dogs to survive.
Rescuers identified dogfighting paraphernalia, such as a treadmill, fighting pen and a spring pole.
"A spring pole is a pole stuck in the ground with a rope on the end about six feet off the ground," Cunningham said. "Something is hung from the rope and the dogs would jump for it. It strengthened the dogs' leg and jaw muscles."
ARC officials said the dogs are underweight, have sores covering their bodies and are exhibiting signs of internal parasites. The organization said most of the dogs will need extensive rehabilitation before they can be considered for adoption.
Another young female pit bull showed signs her teeth had been removed. He said she was probably a "bait dog" used to breed more dogs and/or a dog put with other dogs to be a victim of fighting dogs to increase their aggressive traits. He said how pit bulls turn out has a lot to do with how they are raised, and that pit bulls are not as aggressive with people as other dogs, because they are raised that way.
"They love to please you," Cunningham said of the pit bulls. "They can be used for good or evil; that's the difference. It's way to soon to tell if they can be adopted. They are good with humans, but they've been trained to be aggressive with other dogs."
Spirit was an older male pit bull who, judging from his scars and wary expression, had been in his share of fights. He was getting his shots from Dr. Heather Robertson, the head veterinarian at the Nashville Zoo.
Other young dogs were taken from cages to a larger enclosure and lured with treats to get the terrified animals out amongst humans. One young female, Wilma, stretched her neck as far a possible but was forced to leave her cage to reach a cookie. After a few tries, Wilma was cautiously exploring her new world where she has food, water, a warm place to be and humans who actually care about her welfare.
ARC is a group with nationwide reach and volunteers are summoned to the scene of large scale animal abuse because many local agencies cannot afford to take on so many animals, forcing them to euthanize the dogs.
ARC performed this rescue in conjunction with: Cheatham County Animal Control; Lebanon's New Leash on Life; Agape Animal Rescue out of Nashville; the Nashville Zoo and the Tennessee State Highway Patrol.
New Leash on Life Director Amy Haverstick was at the rescue center Monday as well. She has spent most of the Thanksgiving weekend working to make sure they dogs had an appropriate place to recover. She said the animal shelter hopes to place some of the beagles, hounds and the young pit bulls. She also went to the scene and cut some of the dogs' chains herself.
"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen," Haverstick said as she took a quick break to get something to eat. "It was a long, tough day."
Haverstick said New Leash on Life workers will make sure every animal rescued is spayed or neutered before they leave the rescuers.
She said the family who let New Leash on Life use their warehouse were life savers for the abused dogs.
"I really want to thank the Floyd family," Haverstick said as local animal lovers moved in and out dropping off much-needed supplies.
"They are helping feed the dogs and the volunteers - dogs first," she said.
To find out more about the Animal Rescue Corps, or to volunteer or contribute, visit their website at animalrescuecorps.org.
"When we get there, it's all over. The cruelty has ended," Cunningham said. "Then it's the first gentle touches they have known, the first kindness they ever been shown."
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.