News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012
APPLING, Ga. -- A prominent local animal rescue is being investigated by the state. The Department of Agriculture and Columbia County Health Department are both looking into violations at CSRA Happy Tails Rescue in Appling.
Violations include everything from a lack of paperwork on the animals to unsanitary conditions.
It's not the first time the state has had issues with CSRA Happy Tails, but inspection reports and photos obtained by News 12 reveal more than 18 violations that could end up pulling its license to rescue.
For the last nine years CSRA Happy Tails has been known as a place that works to rescue helpless animals. Just this summer, President and Founder Barbara Gleitsmann was even named a Red Cross hero for her work.
But for the last decade, the rescue has been operating out of Gleitsmann's Appling home and yard. More than two months ago, after the Department of Agriculture received complaints, it came for an inspection. That inspection -- and the three since then -- pulled back the curtain on the operation exposing more than 18 violations.
"It's been very painful and torturous at times to see the animals in the condition that they're in," says Tiffany Vernier, who has been volunteering there and living on the property.
Vernier is one of a handful of former volunteers and board directors speaking out to the state.
"If you can rescue five animals and care for them with everything you have, it's better than giving 2 percent to 100 dogs and that's basically what's happening," Vernier said.
In July, inspectors found more than 71 animals on the property, stacked in crates and cages inside and outside.
"This is just a case of a person who has taken on way more than she can handle," Vernier said.
The violations include conditions on the property, including an abundance of "flies, spider webs, dust and dirt." Also cited are "exposed wires and rusty crates" with "exposed extension cords" that could be chewed on by animals.
"Everything was old and used and falling apart. I wanted to cry just seeing how the pens were set up, the dogs all barking," Vernier said. "They're not emaciated, but you could tell they were sickly -- they had no human attention."
Inspectors also reported "urine running from pen to pen is not sanitary" adding "pets can urinate, lick and bite through cages" passing diseases.
"There were even dogs there that have died of Parvo and they were all placed together in the same ... There's no isolation space," reported Vernier and the 2011 report with the Department of Agriculture.
On top of the rescue, Gleitsmann also advertises "Whiskers Resort," a boarding kennel for paying families. Reports show the rescue dogs and boarded dogs were kept together, and Gleitsmann even had a hard time identifying the animals.
"The people who are boarding their dogs, nine times out of 10, they are unaware that the foster dogs are placed -- these un=vetted dogs and un=socialized dogs a lot of the times -- are being placed next to their dog," Vernier said.
Last month, in the middle of this investigation even, Gleitsmann spoke to News 12 about helping to donate pet oxygen masks to local firefighters.
That day she showed off Jake and other rescue dogs. The Department of Agriculture says one of the biggest violations here deals with the lack of paperwork and vet records on the dozens of animals. The violation lists "one year of paperwork is required. Facility has incomplete incoming/outgoing paperwork," including rabies information.
The organization advertises adoptions in the community, sometimes without records.
In July, Gleitsmann was issued a stop order and told not to bring in any more animals. During re-inspections, the state found more animals on her property.
"Since the stop order was issued, there have been no less than 20 dogs that have come through that property," Vernier said.
Vernier just wants the animals to get proper care they need.
"It's the thrill of the rescue, let me go and take this poor, decrepit, sick-looking animal and bring it in and save its life, but then once it gets behind closed doors, it's pretty much forgotten about," Vernier said. "I really believe she's in denial of a lot of the issues and things that are going on. These are great dogs and they all deserve a chance."
Of course, this is an ongoing investigation and we're still looking into the Department of Public Health violations. We're also not sure when to expect the state to make a ruling here, but the Happy Tails' license could be revoked.
We spoke with Gleitsmann and her attorney. Gleitsmann says the inspection is "not a big deal and only about paperwork." She says she's working to fix some of the issues in the report and late Wednesday afternoon she and her attorney agreed to sit down with News 12 next week to talk about the progress.
The organization regularly adopts out animals at PETCO on Washington Road and Tractor Supply on Bobby Jones expressway.
Gleitsmann has not been the only one running Happy Tails. In the last year, we're told six board members have resigned from the organization, one as late as Tuesday when she found out about the News 12 investigation.