PARKERSBURG, W.Va. – The longtime owner of a Parkersburg-area dog kennel has surrendered her approximately 1,000 dogs to humane officials after authorities executed a search warrant on the property over the weekend.
Sharon Roberts, who has operated Whispering Oaks Kennels since 1961, also agreed never to operate a dog-breeding business again.
"They said 'If you don't voluntarily give up the dogs, we will arrest you and put you in jail and charge a fine for each dog here,"' Roberts told The Associated Press Monday. "What would you do?"
Authorities said the dogs were never let out of their cages and rarely, if ever, touched by a human being.
Roberts, however, disputes those allegations.
"How can you raise dogs without worming them and vaccinating them, trimming their toenails and grooming them?"
"We petted them and played with them and held them," she said. "They rode around on a golf cart with us. They were very well socialized."
Humane Society rescuers said the dogs, mostly adult purebred dachshunds, stumble when they try to walk on grass, tile or carpet because they've spent their entire lives on wire mesh floors.
"Imagine you live your entire life inside your house — one room inside your house — and you never leave it," Maryann Hollis, director of the Humane Society of Parkersburg, told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel for Monday's edition. "Once a week, somebody dropped groceries at your door. That's what life was like for these dogs — just one room, wire mesh, and you pooped where you slept."
But Roberts, 72, said all the pens were made of vinyl-coated wire, not mesh, and that they opened to covered exercise pens. She also said all of the buildings in which the pens were kept were air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.
"All the dogs had food and water in front of them at all times," she said, adding that she and her four full-time and two part-time employees cleaned the cages every day.
The dogs were discovered Saturday by deputies investigating possible dog-related pollution and were taken in what the local humane society calls the largest animal rescue in West Virginia's history.
Most of the animals were in relatively good health.
Wood County Prosecutor Ginny Conley said that while these weren't the worst conditions she's ever seen, it's impossible for anyone to properly care for that many dogs.
Some of the animals are puppies, but most are adults.
"These were the dogs that were breeding machines," said Hollis.
Scotlund Haisley with the Humane Society of the United States said on a video on the group's Web site that volunteers couldn't stand being in the kennels for long periods of time because of the strong ammonia smell. In a press release, the society called the kennel "a grossly overrun breeding facility wrought with obvious animal neglect."
A call to a spokeswoman for that group for more information wasn't immediately returned Monday.
Roberts' husband, Edwin, 74, was arrested Sunday on charges of assault of a police officer and obstructing a police officer. Roberts calls the arrest a misunderstanding. She said her husband had ear plugs in while using a chain saw to clear brush and didn't hear when deputies asked him to turn off the saw.
The animals have been moved to a Parkersburg warehouse for temporary housing. Each must be seen by a veterinarian.
Animal groups from across the country are volunteering to help get the animals ready for adoption.
Roe's group estimates that the costs of the rescue operation could exceed $100,000.