Unregulated Breeders 'Horrible for Animals'
If you've ever thought about getting a dog, you may have considered buying one from a local breeder.
But not all breeders raise their animals the same way.
Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus and the "NewsChannel 5 Investigates" team went undercover to show why critics are so concerned that little can be done to stop Tennessee's backyard breeders.
In fact, when Mindy Dunn stopped in Kingston Springs thinking she might buy a puppy, she never imagined what she would find.
"I was in shock," Dunn tells Kraus. "I'd never seen anything like it. I've never seen anything that filthy."
She found dozens and dozens of dogs.
"Their fur was just matted."
And they were surrounded by feces, flies and the overwhelming stench of dog urine.
"The smell was so bad -- my mom walked out gagging," Dunn says.
Metro animal control director Judy Ladebauche says "unfortunately, it's not terribly unusual."
She says you can find these "backyard breeders" all over Middle Tennessee and, when dogs are raised in such conditions, she says they often wind up with lifelong problems.
"This type of breeding doesn't help the community," Ladebauche says. "It certainly is horrible for the animals."
But the people behind the Kingston Springs breeding operation advertise on the Internet, where they claim their dogs are raised in the "best of conditions."
Yet, when we sent two undercover producers in as customers, they too found dogs living in what most would not consider to be the best of conditions.
"Is this any way to raise dogs?" Kraus asks Cheatham County animal control director Eddie Blackwood.
"No," he replies.
After we showed our video to Blackwood, he immediately headed out to the house.
There, he found the owner Sydney Shearon keeping dogs in small rooms off the garage, in kennels out back and in several other buildings on her property -- including a large metal shed that had very little ventilation.
Shearon claimed she had just 50 or so dogs and puppies, but we counted at least a hundred.
"I was actually checking to see if there was any sort of drainage system back here, and there's not," Blackwood tells Kraus during his inspection.
The animal control director was concerned that many of the dogs were in raised wire cages, which he told us are painful on the dogs' paws.
He was also concerned that Shearon herself was giving the dogs their shots, not a vet.
But it was the filthy conditions here -- what he called a "health hazard for both animals and humans" -- that concerned him the most.
"There's no law against her selling dogs," Blackwood says. "She can sell dogs if she wants to. But if they're on her property, she needs to take care of them."
Kraus asks Shearon, "Is that any way to keep animals?"
"Absolutely not," she replies. "Absolutely not."
Sydney Shearon admitted to us that she and her aging husband have been having trouble caring for so many dogs.
"This has just become more than I can handle," she adds.
But Shearon insisted that what we saw the day we were there was highly unusual.
"You just caught us at a very bad time."
But keep in mind: the conditions were just as bad when our undercover producers went in several weeks earlier -- and several weeks before that when Mindy Dunn stopped by looking for a puppy.
"We've got to do something to help these animals out," Dunn says.
Judy Ladebauche says that "there aren't adequate laws to really address this."
Metro's animal control director believes backyard breeders like this should be required to get a license and have their facilities regularly inspected.
Right now, these breeders have no rules on how they breed or limits on the number of animals they can keep.
"It is definitely time for tougher laws in Tennessee," Ladebauche adds.
Sydney Shearon says, "I know it may not appear so, but we do try to take good care of them."
She and her husband say they now may just shut down their dog breeding business.
But Mindy Dunn says, what about all of the other dogs out there being raised just like this?
"Something has to be done to help these animals."
As for the backyard operation in KIngston Springs, Cheatham County animal control went back to the house a few days ago.
They say the Shearons have done a lot to clean up their operation.
Still, they'll be keeping a close eye on the situation.