A local woman recently helped save hundreds of dogs living in deplorable conditions.
Ann-Margaret Johnston, a certified public accountant in Cumming, was appointed earlier this year to the Georgia State Council of the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS.
Johnston said the group is the nation’s largest animal protection organization and not affiliated with local Humane Society offices.
As a member of the state council, Johnston said she and her husband, David, had the opportunity last week to take part in a raid on a puppy mill operation in Johnston, S.C., near the Georgia state line.
The raid took place Sept. 11, after local authorities arrested the owner of the puppy mill for animal cruelty.
“After they cleared and secured the property … the volunteers went in and we started taking the puppies and dogs out one by one,” said Johnston, noting that a total of about 250 animals were retrieved.
Among them were about 200 dogs and puppies, as well as nine horses and several birds.
Johnston said the dogs were living in horrible conditions, in small cages and crates with little food and “green water.”
Many were malnourished and had a number of health problems such as eye infections and skin irritations.
“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Johnston said. “It was unbelievable.”
The animals were taken in a large rescue trailer to a temporary shelter.
As a state council member of the HSUS, Johnston said one of her main missions is to educate the public about puppy mills. “I’ll be at different business functions and say something about puppy mills and half the people will be like, ‘What’s that?’”
Johnston described puppy mills as places where “people don’t care about the animals.”
“All they care about is the money, about breeding dogs and puppies and getting them sold,” she said. “They continuously breed the dogs over and over and they don’t care about them. They’re just a commodity.”
Johnston said puppy mill operators often sell their dogs online, where customers have no idea the conditions in which the puppies are being bred.
“You see this dog online and you fall in love with the dog not knowing that you’re perpetuating this whole thing,” Johnston said.
She advised anyone in the market for a new pet to first look at rescue animals in local shelters. If that doesn’t work, she said customers should make informed decisions.
“You need to know where that dog came from. You should always see the parents of the puppy and the living conditions of where the breeder has those dogs,” she said, noting that puppy mill operators typically set up meetings away from the breeding areas to deliver the dog.
“People who love animals don’t realize that they could be killing animals every time they buy a dog without knowing where it came from,” she said. “It’s just education.”