- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - Deanalyn Reing of Alabama told state police she was driving from New York to Rhode Island when a trooper pulled her over in July for a traffic violation on Interstate 95 in Stratford. Police found 29 dogs, panting in 96-degree heat, in crates in the box trailer towed by her van.

The encounter was familiar to police and animal control authorities, who say a multistate, lucrative network of questionable and illegal dog sales runs a pipeline of puppies from the South to the Northeast.

Dog sellers present the canines with heart-tugging tales of Southern kill shelters. They also describe residents of the South as uninterested in preventing unwanted puppies through regular spaying and neutering.

This is big money: at $300 per dog, a rescue operation that does not give the animals proper medical attention or humane transport conditions can make $420,000 a year for 1,400 dogs, said Raymond Connors, an animal control officer for the state.

“It’s a multimillion-dollar industry,” he said.

Some Southern rescues are legitimate, register with the state and follow all local regulations regarding animal transport and care. But the sketchy South-to-North dog sales had become so common and so uncontrolled that the state stepped in with new regulatory laws in 2011 to help the Department of Agriculture keep track of the importers and charge those who break the law.

Reing, who runs Southern Dogs Rescue of Auburn, Ala., was charged with 29 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty for the July 19 incident and is due in court in Bridgeport on Oct. 15.

It wasn’t the first time Reing, 49, was caught in the state with reportedly unhealthy dogs, Connors said. She was in Waterbury on Oct. 1, 2011, with a van full of dogs suspected of having parvovirus, a highly contagious, sometimes fatal illness, he said. She was trying to sell them for $300 per pup as an unregistered rescue, though she was not charged then because she told investigators she had no prior knowledge of Connecticut’s law, Connors said.

In 2014, registered vehicles brought 19,913 dogs into Connecticut, according to state records.

The law that created the registry was prompted by testimony from state residents who said they adopted dogs from the South and were hit with thousands of dollars in medical bills soon after. Reputable rescues either cover medical costs or fully disclose an animal’s condition before adoption.

“It was basically an unregulated industry, and anyone could do it,” Connors said. “We saw people setting up in parking lots or strip malls and adopting dogs out for $300. Now, when animals are imported into the state of Connecticut, the person needs to be licensed with the Department of Agriculture, and they need to have an agent in the state.”

It is unclear how many people have been charged under the new laws. Connors said he knows of four, but he did not have a complete list available.

Southern Dogs Rescue, Reing’s operation, is not registered with the state. Repeated attempts to contact her were unsuccessful, and no requests for comment were acknowledged.

Tony Frazier, Alabama’s state veterinarian, didn’t know how many animal cruelty reports are made in his state, but “I think it’s probably underreported,” he said.

Reing was put on supervised probation in Alabama in February after she was found guilty of five counts of second-degree cruelty to animals. She was ordered to take an online class about the welfare and behavior of animals, state records show.

At the time, Alabama’s assistant district attorney, Gentry Jackson, told the statewide online news outlet Al.com that she believed Reing “just got in over her head with the number of animals she was keeping.”

Homer Bruce, the Auburn, Ala., veterinarian who treated the animals, said authorities found about 20 dogs at Reing’s Lee County facility that appeared to be malnourished and “starving to death.”

Connecticut does not require dogs that appear to be healthy to be quarantined before adoption. Massachusetts and Rhode Island do require rescues to isolate dogs before placing them.

Connors said Reing’s recent arrest represents a larger trend of illegitimate rescuers using Connecticut to circumvent other Northeast states’ requirements for quarantine. It isn’t clear why Connecticut hasn’t imposed a quarantine law.

The transportation of dogs from Southern states began after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Dogs were separated from their owners and injured among the debris, and the families were displaced. Rescues from all over swooped in to reunite what animals they could with their families and adopt the ones they couldn’t.

“The risk is getting an unhealthy animal,” Connors said. “Animals from the South will get different parasites than the animals from the North. That’s why (adopters) have to be sure the animal comes in with a health certificate from the state of origin.”

Rescues that take proper care of the dogs often lose more money than they make, but they do it out of a passion for helping animals.

Chey Ottoson runs Double Dog Rescue, a not-for-profit organization that pulls dogs out of overcrowded shelters in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee and brings them to Northeast states to be fostered and adopted. Double Dog Rescue is registered with the state, and Connors confirmed that it is a legitimate, reputable rescue.

Ottoson, who lives in the Boston area, said she has been in debt multiple times because of the rescue. She works a separate full-time job, and neither she nor anyone else at the organization takes a salary.

“My poor treasurer is always a nervous wreck,” she said. “We do this for free, and it’s not easy.”

Considering the $150-per-dog transportation fee for an agency that walks the animals regularly on the trip; getting the dogs spayed or neutered and up-to-date on their shots; and taking care of any other medical problems, Ottoson said the rescue rarely breaks even when placing a dog - even with its $450 fee per animal.

One of the Southern shelters Double Dog Rescue pulls from is the Humane Society Pet Rescue & Adoption Center in Gadsden, Ala. The shelter manager, Lisa Brackett, said Double Dog Rescue is one of five rescues that takes dogs for transport. She said last year they were able to save 36 percent of the dogs they took in. The rest were euthanized.

That’s an improvement from their previous numbers, Brackett said, and slightly better than the national average. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported that 35 percent of dogs entering shelters nationally are adopted.

Waterbury Pound successfully placed 278 dogs out of 573, or 48.5 percent, in 2014. A total of 82 had to be euthanized last year, but Waterbury Administrative Captain Edward Daponte said most of those cases involved biting or sick dogs.

Amy Harrell, president of CT Votes for Animals, said that while the state’s 2011 regulations have helped weed out some illegitimate dog transporters, several still fly under the radar.

“There are many people who believe we should take every risk to save these dogs in the South,” Harrell said. “What I’m told by other people who work in the rescue community is that some of these dogs end up in local shelters because it doesn’t work out.”

Connors said he believes every dog deserves a home, but he added that there are a lot of dogs in local shelters that need homes, too.


Information from: Republican-American, https://www.rep-am.com

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