SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — An anonymous tip from a potential dog buyer led Scotch Plains police to investigate what turned out to be an illegal puppy mill on Laurie Court, police said.
According to Scotch Plains police chief Ted Conley, the caller had gone to the house to buy a dog and was alarmed by the condition inside and — notably — the smell.
Sgt. Brad Belford was the shift supervisor when the call came in about a possible puppy mill. He met fellow officers Mirabile and Maldonado at the home located at the intersection of Laurie Court and Terrill Road, across from Terrill Middle School, Conley said.
“It took the resident about five minutes to answer, and he tried to squeeze his body out of the door. It was then that the officers detected a foul odor,” said Sgt. Belford in an interview with TAPintoSPF. "You could see he was visibly nervous.”
Sgt. Belford said that because of the man’s behavior, they became suspicious of what was beyond the door inside the house.
“I was able to get his consent to look around,” Sgt. Belford said. “Our initial concern was if the animals are properly cared for.”
The officers said that “there was an overwhelming smell of animals and feces and urine” when they entered the home and that the floors were stained.
“There were cats in crates. We walked through the house into the back area, where they had Golden Retriever mom and her puppies. Another room had three other full-grown Golden Retrievers,” Sgt. Belford said. “There were paper towels that were used for cleaning the mess, and garbage stacked up. On the second floor, you can hear animals.”
When the officers went upstairs, they saw numerous crates of dogs with litters of tiny puppies, he said. There were cat litters in closets and, in one room, there were 45 animals, according to Sgt. Belford.
In the basement, crates were jammed with mothers and puppies.
“It was completely heinous,” Sgt. Belford, a self-professed dog lover, said.
“To see any animals kept in those conditions, it’s upsetting. He had no business running a business like this at a residence. With the sheer amount of animals, he couldn’t be providing proper care for all of them."
Lt. Michael Tardi told TAPintoSPF that he had never been involved with an animal-related incident like this one before.
“The smell was horrible. When I went in, there were cages everywhere. In the basement, there were gigantic crates filled with between three and 10 dogs, ranging from newborns to older dogs,” said Lt. Tardi, who has two dogs of his own. “It’s kind of heartbreaking.”
Police said that the resident let the dogs out in the back yard of the home and that they had never received a phone call about noise or anything suspicious.
Because the Union County Prosecutor’s office had put together a list of rescue organizations that could help in animal recovery situations like this one, police were able to hand over the dogs and cats to people who would care for them.
“This is the first time we ever got a call to go to a home and take the animals,” said Kerry Mooney, who runs Mountainside, NJ-based Brendan’s Meadows Rescue, which has been flooded with calls and seen donations jump on its Facebook page.
“We have the Golden Retriever and her two puppies. We brought her to the Westfield Animal Hospital and are going to have her fixed,” Mooney said. “She is only two years old, and I’m guessing she already has had more than one litter.”
Mooney, who grew up in Westfield, said she is looking for foster families until forever homes can be found.
“The puppies will get a lot of attention. We just want to make sure they’re healthy,” said Mooney, who started the volunteer organization in 2009 and has rescued an estimated 200 animals.
Since the news broke, Brendan’s Meadows Rescue has been flooded with phone calls from people wanting to help. Other shelters that have taken the animals are likely experiencing the same response. There was no answer at the Montclair Township Animal Shelter, and the Plainfield Area Humane Society voicemail was full early on Thursday.
“Rescue is a very rewarding volunteer job. You’re saving a life. You can tell when they look at you that they’re literally saying ‘thank you,’” Mooney said. “We are thrilled that we were able to find foster homes for three of the dogs and get them out of deplorable situation.”
To contact Brendan’s Meadows Rescue in Mountainside, call 908-272-8555 or visit their Facebook page.