CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV/WECT) - Fifty-seven dogs rescued from a suspected puppy mill made the more than 200 mile journey from the coast to Charlotte Saturday.
An anonymous tip led deputies with the Brunswick and New Hanover County Sheriff's Offices to make two arrests following a suspected puppy mill raid, saving over 160 animals in total on Friday, including 10 exotic birds.
Authorities say two suspects, Amelia and Andrew Millis, have been arrested, and they will be charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty and could face other charges.
Deputies worked with members of the SPCA and the Humane Society of the U.S. to make the bust. Over 130 dogs were found inside and outside of the Millis' home, located on Maco Road in Leland. Most of the dogs were found packed together in cages with no air conditioning and limited access to food and water, according to authorities on the scene.
The raid was initially planned for next week, but according to Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram, the conditions were so bad, they had to take action earlier.
"Personally I've never seen anything quite like this," Sheriff John Ingram said. "The inside of the residences and behind the residence are some of the worst conditions I've ever experienced on anything I've ever been on."
"The ammonia smell when you walked in was just pretty overwhelming..and in one room ..the room we are calling the nursery room there were 45 dogs...and you could not stand in that room for more than 10 seconds without coming out to get a breath of fresh air," VP of Operations at the Humane Society of Charlotte Jorge Ortega said.
Authorities secured warrants Friday to search two homes: the Millis' home in Leland, and another in New Hanover County near UNCW.
Sgt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office says the dogs found in Wilmington, which are all puppies, are in good condition for now. There were about 30 in several cages, and they had air conditioning, food, water and clean cages.
The location near UNCW is where authorities believe the puppies from the suspected mill in Leland were taken to be sold.
Both Brunswick and New Hanover County Sheriff's Offices will continue to investigate the case and determine how many charges the Millis' will face.
Most of the dogs are small breeds like poodles, yorkies, shih tzus, Lhasa apsos, schnauzers and pugs.
Vets are now examining the dogs and birds in Charlotte for health issues.
"People are breeding animals in mass number and because of that it leads to health issues with animals," President of the Humane Society of Charlotte Shelly Moore said.
"Breeders like this put a stigma on dog breeders. We have wonderful breeders in NC but...how do you know if you're looking online you're not getting this?" North Carolina State Director for the HSUS Kim Alboum said.
"A lot of these guys are going to need socialization…most of these guys were in cages with no human contact..so they are shy and very scared," Ortega said.
Some of the animals could go up for adoption by early next week.
The Humane Society of Charlotte is seeking monetary donations to help with the emergency influx of animals as well as folks who could foster dogs.
"We see a lot of puppy mills in NC and the number one reason is because NC is one of few states that does not have any regulation on commercial dog breeding," Moore said.
The HSUS has worked to draft legislation requiring better breeding regulations. The attempt has failed the last couple of years. One opponent to the legislation told WBTV last year that the language was too broad and negatively affected legitimate breeders.