By Kim Bell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
UPDATED, 11:55 a.m.
SENECA, Mo. -- The sheriff who helped confiscate 208 sickly dogs from a southwest Missouri woman's alleged "puppy mill" says he saw several sickening images in his raid -- including the remnants of puppy carcasses in the cage of a Bengal tiger.
"We assume she was feeding it dead puppies," said Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland.
The tiger, a pet to the woman since it was a cub 9 years ago, was also confiscated in the raid Thursday because it was undernourished, the sheriff said. A veterinarian told Copeland that a tiger that size, with that bone structure, should weigh more than 400 pounds. It actually weighed 175 pounds. The dogs' wire-bottom cages were covered with animal waste and urine.
The more than 200 dogs and puppies taken in the raid Thursday at "J.B. Precious Puppies" have been trucked to St. Louis, where the Humane Society is cleaning and caring for them at the Humane Society's headquarters on Macklind Avenue. The tiger was sedated and taken to a zoo in Springfield, Mo.
Just before noon today, Newton County Prosecutor Jacob Skouby filed misdemeanor charges in the case. Skouby charged the owner, 66-year-old Jewel Bond, with two counts of animal abuse. One count covers the dogs; the other count is for the tiger. Each count is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Bond lives near Seneca, a town of about 2,100 people not far from Joplin.
Bond could not be reached by the Post-Dispatch for comment Friday. Repeated calls to her home went unanswered. But Bond told Todd G. Higdon, a reporter for the Neosho Daily News who was on site during the raid Thursday, that the removal of the animals was a "dirty deal" stemming from problems two years ago with her hairdresser.
"I have raised dogs here for over 30 years," Bond said. "And I love raising the dogs."
Copeland said she lives there alone and told investigators that heart problems kept her from taking better care of the animals.
"Even if she is telling the truth, that is no defense whatsoever for not caring for these animals," Copeland said. "This was a puppy mill. The structure out front was an office building and glass cages so people could come and see a decent looking dog. But when you go out back, it was like rabbit hutches, exposed to the weather. And I'm sure these dogs for their entire lifetime had never touched the ground. Their entire existence is to shell out puppies for her to sell."
The dogs had automatic feeders in their cages, but the automatic watering system was broken. Some of the dogs had water that was frozen. "About 95 percent of the dogs had no water," the sheriff said. A veterinarian said some appeared dehydrated. Two puppy carcasses, primarily bones and hair, were found in the tiger's cage. The sheriff assumes the puppies were dead when they were fed to the tiger. About 10 other puppy carcasses were found elsewhere on the property, Copeland said.
Copeland said he was saddened by it all, but by two images in particular:
"There was one little Chihuahua outside a cage that could barely walk. Another female dog there with three legs, to see it try to get around on the wires, touched my heart," Copeland said.
"If you're an animal lover, you'd sit down and cry," he added.
The entrance to Bond's property that houses J.B. Precious Puppies is deceiving, Copeland said.
"You pull up out front, there's a sign out front that lists all the breeds for sale, there's a brightly colored office," he said.
But people aren't allowed on the property where the dogs are stored in cages, he said. "There's a big wooden fence, with a no trespassing sign that says, 'Keep out.' It's locked with a padlock."
About 170 of the dogs are small dogs like Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, Miniature Pinchers, Lhasa Apsos, Pomeranians and West Highland terriers. Four were pregnant. So far, none has had to be euthanized.
"All will most likely make a full recovery," said Kendra Murphy of the Humane Society.
Murphy said large-scale rescues like this one attract lots of attention and support from the public. She said the agency needs donations of blankets, towels and soft toys for the dogs and puppies.
To make room for them, some of the Humane Society's other dogs that are ready for adoption are being moved to the Humane Society's Westport and Chesterfield Valley centers.
The Humane Society says that Bond, the breeder, was fined $10,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2006 for various violations. And in 2007, Copeland said, Bond was the subject of an earlier raid when 127 animals were confiscated. Bond signed those animals over to the state. They were cleaned up, treated and sold at auction. After the state's expenses were paid, the proceeds from the sale were turned over to Bond, the sheriff said.
She was not charged with a crime in 2007, Copeland said.
"She turned around and went right back into business without a license," the sheriff added.
Recently, the sheriff's department was contacted by a woman who bought a puppy from Bond. But when the new owner went to pick up the puppy, it appeared lethargic. The woman asked to see the puppy's parents but Bond wouldn't allow it, the sheriff said. That's when deputies were called. The deputies saw the tiger, which was properly registered with the sheriff's department, and thought it appeared to be in poor health. The investigation snowballed into Thursday's raid.
The dogs will remain the custody of the Humane Society until a hearing March 9 at the Newton County Courthouse. The dogs are considered evidence in a criminal case, but the sheriff's office has temporarily given custody to the Humane Society. Jewel Bond will have 10 days to post a "cash bond" with the court to cover the care and feeding of the animals. If she doesn't post the bond, the court might turn the animals over to the Humane Society. If she posts the bond, they'll remains hers until her court case is decided. If custody of the dogs is awarded to the Humane Society, the agency will assess the dogs' conditions and decide which ones can be put up for adoption. That process could take weeks.