HOLLYWOOD, Md.—It's August. The Dog Days of Summer. According to Wikipedia, it's the hottest time of the year, a time that among other things, makes "dogs mad." Surely, it's not a time for dogs, or humans for that matter, to be out in the sun for long periods of time. Yet that is the fate of many dogs who are tied up 24/7, hidden from view in the backyards of Southern Maryland.
This is a story about a group of those dogs who have been dubbed the Mill Bridge Dogs. They live outside 24/7 (in the Dog Days of Summer and the dead of winter) at two homes along Mill Bridge Road—a rural road on the west side of Routes 2/4 in Lusby. Those dogs have recently become the center of a controversy between neighbors and animal advocates, and Calvert County and its Animal Control (AC) agency.
The controversy has been brewing for almost three years. In 2014, Jackie Miesner, a neighbor of the two houses on Mill Bridge Road, complained to AC about the conditions of the dogs living there. Meisner contends, as do a number of representatives of animal welfare organizations in the county, that's there's a breeding operation going on at the two houses, with dogs being interchanged between the two, with dogs from one being bred to dogs from the other.
In December of 2014, Meisner elicited the aid of Ellen McCormick Ament, president of Southern Maryland Spay and Neuter, Inc.—a non-profit organization that operates the Stop Pet Overpopulation Thrift shop (SPOT) in St. Leonard. Ament, who is a humane officer, said Meisner told her about "dogs tied up outside with lousy shelter and underweight and (with) overly heavy chains."
Ament also complained to AC officers, who told her everything was alright there. Ament's organization, which provides low-cost spay/neuter services from the proceeds of the thrift shop, supplied the dogs' owners with "dogloos, pads and dog food to get the dogs through the winter." Ament said she brought food three more times and was told "not to come back."
Miesner, who passes by the two houses every day, kept observing dogs outside in all types of weather. Also, a relative of hers was friendly with someone living in one of the houses and brought reports back to her about what was going on there. What was reported to her was that there was a pit bull breeding operation there.
In 2016, Miesner purchased a pit bull puppy from one of the litters and the dog became her loyal pet. She kept reporting what she saw to AC. This spring she observed what she felt were continuing conditions which she felt constituted cruelty to the animals. She and Calvert County Animal Control Supervisor Craig Dichter began a series of back and forth emails on the situation.
On March 24, she wrote to Dichter: "My only concern is these dogs. These people have no heart. I see it every day." Miesner's daughter also complained. Miesner wrote on March 29: "We are both very passionate about animals, one because they are defenseless (and. they are) ignorant people and two, no animal should suffer because of their owner's selfishness and senseless care of these animals."
Dichter responded on March 29, "All I can tell you is the officer is still actively checking on this case. As soon as I can provide more information, I will. As for what the animal needs I can only enforce the law. If they decide to surrender the animals to us, then we will take them to the shelter as I can't give them to you." Miesner had offered to take them. Dichter then concluded, "The hard part of his job is that we have to keep personal and professional opinions separate."
Calvert County Animal Control regulations do give the county authority to seize animals in an alleged animal cruelty case.
Miesner met with the County Times on July 21 along with representatives of a group called Calvert County Pet Coalition, which is made up of members of SPOT, Calvert County Humane Society, Calvert Animal Welfare League, Patuxent Animal Welfare Society and Friends of Felines. All except the cat organization had representatives at the meeting.
The humane representatives told the County Times that the occupants of the two homes were shuttling dogs in and out to thwart AC directives. They would be told to get veterinary care for a dog and when the officers returned, the dog would be gone, the pet coalition representatives said.
Ament was contacted by Miesner again in March of this year. Ament said Miesner reported two very thin female dogs and pups being sold on Instagram. Ament also complained to AC.
The occupant of one of the houses not only posted the puppy pictures on Instagram on March 3 but also the following text: "Got a master plan going right now. Another litter drop tonight or tomorrow."
Ament brought the situation to the coalition, which asked AC to investigate. Dichter then met with the group in May and according to Ament told them, "he took a picture of a mother dog to a veterinarian and that the vet said the dog was 15 pounds under weight. Said AC is working with the owners to rectify the problem."
Ament on July 10 went on the property to deliver four bags of dog food. What she saw, she said, included "emaciated dogs with fly eaten ears, two pups at large, one listless and weak, one active, pitiful shelters, and empty water bowls (noon in the summer). I take pictures but owner runs me off the property."
Ament supplied the pictures to Miesner, who posted them on Facebook. She also immediately supplied them to AC.
County Commissioner Mike Hart visited the homes after the pictures hit Facebook. He was not allowed into the back yards, but a dog was brought out to him and he reported on Facebook that it looked like the dog's ears were healing and the owner insisted the dog was getting veterinary care. Miesner contends that Hart was duped, that he was shown a different dog. A call to Hart for comment was not returned.
This is a critical time for Calvert County Animal Control. Up until July 1 they were under the supervision of the sheriff's office. With the county reorganization, on July 1 the function came under the supervision of the Office of Public Safety whose director is Jacquelyn Vaughn.
Dichter and Vaughn talked to the County Times by phone on July 26. Angela Small and Mark Volland from the county's Public Information Office were also on the conference call. During the call, Dichter insisted that there is no breeding operation going on at Mill Bridge Road. He said he knew of only one litter being produced there, and that didn't constitute breeding.
County Animal Control regulations require a special license for breeders.
Miesner points out the Instagram assertion of an additional litter and the fact that she personally purchased a pup from another litter last year as evidence of more than one litter. She said she knows a woman who used to live close enough to be able to observe what was going on at the two houses, and that she personally observed one female having three separate litters. Miesner believes there have been eight litters produced at the homes since 2014.
Dichter insists that the investigation into what is going on at Mill Bridge Road is ongoing. Small said the county attorney had advised them not to talk to the County Times, but they felt since the pictures were out on Facebook they should reply.
Vaughn asked for patience, considering she only has had responsibility for the operation since July 1. She said the AC officers have acted on cases that the public is not aware of. Small later in the week supplied statistics that showed 84 citations issued in calendar year 2016 and 57 warnings issued.
She also reported: "Animal Control officers have visited the site on Mill Bridge Road numerous times to monitor care of the dogs." She added, "Animal Control officers have confirmed the animals are receiving proper care. There were no signs that the conditions of the animals required additional veterinary care."
Miesner and Ament are incredulous and are pondering additional options. "They should not be allowed to have any more puppies," Miesner said. The animal advocates wonder why anyone is breeding pit bulls, considering the large number now in shelters.
Meanwhile, Small during the conference call offered the County Times a ride-along at any time with AC. When the County Times asked to be able to ride along during the next visit to Mill Bridge Road, she responded: "Due to the sensitive nature of this open case, no ride-along participant will be invited to respond to the Mill Bridge Road residence with Animal Control Officers."
For more local stories from the County Times newspapers, visit ct.somd.com or find a copy on local news stands.