Oct. 31, 2018 – On Tuesday morning, volunteers with orange protective baggies on their feet were attempting to walk several small dogs on a grassy area adjoining the old zipper factory on Cedar Street in Dunlap.
“Come on, baby,” the lady gently urged as she pulled on the leash, but the fearful – and obviously pregnant – young dog resisted with all her might, not realizing that the kindly lady holding the leash was only trying to help.
According to Dunlap Police Chief Clint Huth, local police arrested a couple for animal cruelty on Thursday, Oct. 25 at about 7 p.m., after state probation officers conducting a sex offender check noticed the dozens of cats and dogs in a Valley View residence.
April Bowden, director of operations at Marion Animal Rescue Connection (MARC), was tending the animals Tuesday, which are now housed in row on row of cages inside the old factory.
“That night they called at 9:00,” Bowden recalled. “The police really and truly thought I could just get there in a few minutes and get 100 animals. I couldn't rally the troops that quickly. It took us about 12 hours to get organized and make a plan.”
MARC is a volunteer organization located in Marion County and the only animal rescue/animal shelter in the local area. Phillip McGhee, 48, and Mary L. Smith, 59, were both arrested and charged with animal cruelty.
Authorities rescued over 40 adult dogs, over 20 puppies, over 30 cats, and over 20 chickens.
“They had to legally sign over every animal on the place,” Bowden said.
MARC took responsibility for most of the animals, relocating the chickens to local farms, and the sickly animals going to McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga. All the rest went to the temporary shelter in the old zipper plant.
“They were de-flead, de-wormed, and vaccinated on intake,” Bowden said. “Dr. Noble checked over. He was very, very impressed with how well they are being cared-for here and the set-up we have here.”
Volunteers have stepped forward to help out, and gifts of food, collars, leashes, and chew toys have come in.
“Everybody has been extremely supportive and helpful and caring and generous,” Bowden said. “But counties without animal control are not set up to deal with this. There are probably 100 other houses in Dunlap just like this, that did not get reported by the neighborhood. The probation officers just stumbled onto it.”
According to Bowden, the animals taken in this week from the one house were not mistreated. There were just too many in a small space, and the owners lacked the financial resources to provide for health and medical issues.
“This was a man that was helping animals,” she said. “I don't know that any animal was poorly cared-for. Some were sick. They all had fleas, and some were very, very skinny. They were all a healthy weight except the sick ones.”
The couple had recently taken in some strays that turned out to be infected with Parvo, she said. A dog had died just three days before the authorities showed up. And since the animals were rescued, several puppies died of Parvo and a few others have tested positive for Parvo but are responding to treatment.
The temporary shelter on Cedar Street now houses 10 dogs and 20 cats, and all have been tested clean of disease and received their shots.
Some animals have been placed in foster homes, but permanent adoptive families are needed.
“There is no shelter or animal control here, so nobody knows who to call,” Bowden said. “Until there's appropriate animal control and an adequate place to house animals in an emergency, people are just going to watch animals suffer.”
There are still an estimated five elusive cats in the house in Valley View subdivision that are wild. Since Mary Smith has been released on bond, she is back at the house, so volunteers are not going there, but police continue to set out baited live traps in the house. They are waiting for the cats to get hungry enough to go in the traps.
As of Tuesday morning, Phillip McGhee was still incarcerated at the Sequatchie County Jail.
Anyone interested in adopting a healthy, vet-checked dog or cat is encouraged to call MARC at 423-240-9074 or go by the old zipper factory on the northeast corner of State Street and Cedar Street in downtown Dunlap.