an emaciated dog cowering on the floor
When Pearl was rescued from a North Carolina puppy mill in late 2019, she was emaciated, lethargic, riddled with parasites and pregnant with seven puppies. Photo by Alina Soderholm

Had it not been for the odd call to Caldwell County, North Carolina, animal control last December, Pearl and her puppies would have all died. Instead, an officer responding to a breeder’s claim that someone had snuck onto her property and killed a dog found another dog, Pearl, lying in that same breeder’s driveway, giving birth. Three of the four puppies who had already been born to the emaciated Weimaraner were dead. Pearl and two of three puppies not yet born were saved only through an emergency delivery and C-section.

three puppies in a carrier
Three of Pearl’s puppies survived, thanks to a Caldwell County animal control officer and round-the-clock care from a local veterinarian who eventually adopted one of the pups. Photo by Alina Soderholm

Alerted by Pearl’s terrible condition, the officer got a warrant and the next day seized 33 dogs and a kitten, taking advantage of an animal cruelty law the Humane Society of the United States helped put in place in North Carolina. Pearl, who almost died unnoticed, ended up on the cover of “The Horrible Hundred,” an HSUS annual report that lists known puppy mills across the country. The breeder, who was associated with the American Kennel Club, was charged with animal cruelty, and the HSUS assisted with some of the Caldwell County shelter’s costs of caring for the animals while the case was pending.

Last summer, the breeder pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty, had to give up all but one of her dogs and was sentenced to 18 months on probation, during which she cannot breed or sell dogs. Pearl’s puppies had already been adopted: one by the veterinarian who saved them, and the other two by her friends. In September, Pearl found a new home, where she has gained 15 pounds.

a happy dog on a leash
Putting a horrible past behind her, Pearl is now in a loving home, where she has gained 15 pounds. Photo by Brent B. Clark/AP Images for The HSUS

About the Author

Karen E. Lange is a senior writer at the Humane Society of the United States.


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University of Florida Shelter Medicine Program