Imagine living next to a person for years – waving hello and goodbye every morning, perhaps even inviting them over for dinner – only to discover that they held a deep, dark secret within the confines of their home. This scenario is the nightmare that residents of Manchester, Tennessee were faced with when they awoke one morning to authorities raiding the home of resident Caroline Irby. Unbeknownst to her neighbors, hidden under an idyllic exterior appearance, Ms. Irby had the secret double life of an animal hoarder and abuser.
Local Authorities and Animal Rescuers Shocked at Conditions of Animals
Early one Saturday morning, authorities acted on an anonymous tip and raided Ms. Irby’s farmhouse and barn. What met them was a nightmarish scene of nearly 100 dogs, all packed into tiny cages and stacked one on top of each other.
Conditions were so atrocious, and the odor omitted from the feces was so intense that rescue workers were forced to don masks. The dogs had been forced to live in their own waste, with piles of feces in the bottom of some cages up to an inch high.
Dogs Kept in Boxes Without Food or Light
Rescue organization Animal Rescue Corps led the rescue efforts and reported that many of the animals on the premises had never seen the light of day. The poor dogs were held inside a windowless barn – some in cages, some in boxes – with no access to grass, a yard, or the ability to run and stretch their legs. Many of the animals were starved to the point that their bones were showing through their sparse fur.
Dubbed operation “midnight run,” numerous pictures were taken of the rescue operation by ARC volunteers. These images were then used in the subsequent legal action brought against the animals’ owner.
Animals Barely Able to Walk
Many of the animals removed from Ms.Irby’s property were in such bad condition that they were unable to walk on their own. Rescue workers had to carry the dogs out of their crates to remove them from the barn.
Although it is unclear how long the animals had been suffering this abuse, most of them were able to be handled and approached. Scotlund Haisley, President of Animal Rescue Corps, noted: “They had been suffering a very long time. I saw little to no emotion, and when I did see an emotion, I saw fear.”
Dog’s Fur Was Matted And That Was Not The Worst Of It
At one point it seemed to rescue workers that each dog brought out of the Tennessee barn was worse-off than the last. In addition to being filthy, many of the dogs had been forced to live in their own excrement for so long, they had developed chemical burns on their legs and stomach as a result of exposure to urine and feces. One of the workers described the injuries as some of the most notable cases of “acid burns” they had ever seen on a dog.
Matting was also a problem, with nearly all of the dogs requiring significant grooming as part of their medical screening. One dog was so matted, his hair had grown into his cage and locked him in place for an unknown length of time.
Dogs Rescued Varied in Breed and Size
The dogs rescued from the hoarder’s house ranged in breed and size. The common factor between them is that their exact genetics appeared to be a mystery due to severe neglect. Many of the breeds were unrecognizable due to their condition.
Larger dogs were shoved into crates without regard to size or weight. Some of the animals seemed to be permanently stooped over, unable to fully stand within the tight confines of their prison. Nearly all of the dogs were suffering from sight issues as they struggled to adjust their sensitive eyes to the bright sunshine of the outdoors.
Dogs Remain Friendly But Fearful, Despite All They Have Been Through
Despite the horrible conditions the dogs had been living in, they appeared to exhibit no ill will towards humans. Many of the dogs approached their rescuers gently as if they knew they were on their way to a better life. Responders allowed the dogs that were capable of walking to walk out of the dark barn on their own four feet. Many of the dogs stopped when confronted with daylight and sunshine, uncertain of this big, new world. Their behavior only confirmed rescue workers suspicions that the dogs had never been allowed outside.
One of the rescue workers described the scene touchingly. Commenting on how each of the dogs, “shot their noses up to the sky, and what we believe they were doing was absorbing the sunshine and the oxygen.” Again and again, this scene was repeated as each dog exited the barn, deeply touching everyone involved in helping deliver these animals to freedom.
Animals Moved To Facilities for Treatment And Evaluation
In total, 97 dogs were removed from the Tennessee farm. The high number of animals in need of assistance prompted officials and the coordinating rescue organization to bring in additional help. The health and physical condition of the dogs was prioritized, having some of those with fewer signs of abuse being sent immediately to neighboring shelters, as well as rescue and foster facilities to help alleviate the burden.
While being moved to a shelter in Lebanon, TN, rescue workers commented that the conditions at the farm and home were “deplorable” and the “worse they had ever seen.”
Dogs Need Immediate Medical Attention For A Variety of Illnesses
Local veterinary hospitals immediately volunteered their time and services upon hearing of the immediate need. Local vet, Jackie Jones, commented that they most common problem among the rescue animals was light deprivation. Many of the dogs were also suffering from heart conditions and infection from open wounds that had not been treated.
The road to recovery for these animals will be a long one. Rescue workers remain hopeful that the majority of the animals will make a full recovery and find new, loving homes.
Rescue Workers Remain To Address Serious Need
Local rescue organizations have volunteered to remain on site throughout the triage process. This will allow the group time to evaluate each dog individually and to provide much needed medical grooming and treatment. Thorough documentation was also provided to law enforcement to build the case against the neglectful owner.
Number of Animals Found Dead
In addition to the 97 dogs found alive, the bodies of numerous animals had been found piled into a wheelbarrow inside the barn. Rescue officials believe that these animals died due to starvation. While the discovery was troublesome for responders, each body was documented and photographed in order to bolster the legal case against the property owner.
Officially Charged And Booked For Animal Abuse
Ms. Irby, the owner of the property, was officially charged with ten counts of animal cruelty and neglect. Although this may seem lacking given the severity and scope of the crime committed, she is expected to do jail time and pay significant fines if found guilty.
Law enforcement officials stress that they believe this is a case of hoarding and not of intentional abuse. Authorities were also quick to point out that hoarding is a mental illness and that the owner is in need of medical treatment for her condition.