As published in Dogs in Review and The Royal Spaniels.  Reprinted with permission.




By Kit Rodwell

He tried to kill my dog. "Johnny" wasn't mine at the time, true, and had he stayed in the conditions he was found in, he would have only belonged to the Great Spirit who would have wept that a human could have made another being so full of hopelessness and pain. Johnny was one of the 150 dogs rescued by Animal Control in Valley Center, California on May 21st from the home of Michael Garritson.

Valley Center is a small, unincorporated town located approximately 35 miles north and east of San Diego. I live there myself. We have one generic gas station, a post office, two vets, a library, two traffic lights, two restaurants with no dinner over $7.95, two Indian casinos, no Starbucks or 7-11 stores. There are five licensed kennels in this town known for growing avocados amid big lots of horse property. We are zoned agriculture and allowed six dogs per property. Summer temperatures hit well over 100 and the freeze was bad enough last year to declare the agriculture crop a disaster.

Who knew we had an active puppy mill in our midst, selling purebred English Toy Spaniels, Cavalier King Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers via the internet? Interestingly enough, neither apparently did AKC. Which brings up the question, how could someone be selling over the internet, advertising purebred AKC registered dogs, in apparent quantities, without some warning flag being raised at AKC? I was under the impression, mistakenly apparently, that one was only allowed a certain number of litter applications per year without having an inspector at one's doorstep.

It was only because a prospective buyer complained about the smelly, dirty conditions and lack of a kennel license that this individual was "raided" by Animal Control.

When San Diego Animal Control arrived on the property, accompanied by sheriff's deputies, they found (I am now quoting newspaper accounts, see bottom of article for references), "animals in horrible conditions", "living in cramped crates". "Many of the animals .....were in bad shape, with feces matted in their fur or open sores on their paw pads from prolonged contact with urine". Animal Control Lt. Mary Kay Gagliardo was quoted as stating "It was just squalor". She was also reported as saying that the dogs had a variety of medical conditions such as limping, eye infections and muscle atrophy. John Carlson, Regional Director of North County Animal shelter is quoted as saying "The dogs were being kept in filthy, squalid conditions", and "A couple of the dogs were in very serious medical condition, and I am not too optimistic about their recovery".

At the shelter, I asked one of the officers, "how many trips did it take you to get the dogs out of there". She replied. "when we saw those poor dogs, we called every truck we had in the county to converge on the house". "We crammed all the dogs into four trucks since we didn't want to leave any behind to be hidden away".

Two dogs had to be euthanized shortly after arrived at the San Diego County Animal Shelter. Subsequently, five more dogs had to be euthanized to end their sufferings. Vets did a C-section on one ET and another litter was whelped soon after. An interesting aside, neither vet in Valley Center knew that Michael Garritson existed, or had ever seen an English Toy Spaniel. The initial count of sexes had to be revised over the next few weeks as the dogs were washed and the mats cut out since some of them were so badly tangled, it was impossible to feel testicles through the wads of feces.

The Shelter had opened this new spectacular facility a mere two weeks previously, and even at that, some of the dogs with no obvious health problems had to be sent to other animal facilities in the San Diego area. To date, the bill for medical care and boarding these dogs is being estimated at over $130,000 with some bills from specialists still to be added to the tally.

Mr. Garritson has made several trips to Crufts over the last few years to purchase dogs, accompanied by his mother who also breeds ET's. When asked about this situation, she is reported as saying "I have no control over Michael, you know you just can't tell kids what to do". Also, "he has pristine facilities and it was unfair of them to raid him at 7AM before his kids had time to clean the runs". I guess the kids didn't have time that morning to comb the mats out of 150 dogs, clean the urine and poop out of the crates, wipe the mucus out of 300 eyes, feed the malnourished puppy who subsequently died, treat the ear infections, give medicine for the coccidiosis which the Shelter had to treat everyone for, put ointment onto the eyes swollen from injuries, or pick the ticks off the dogs in those "pristine" facilities. The newspapers reported this as "a family operation run by three generations".

OK you are saying, all this is hearsay from people who say they were there and newspaper reports. Now would you like my eye witness accounting?

Who am I? am a professional dog show photographer who previously to that professionally handled for 26 years. My experience in dogs only goes back 35 years. I own a Champion Cavalier and have photographed both the Cavalier and English Toy National Specialties.

When the TV stations in San Diego began broadcasting from on site the news of what they were calling "a neglect/cruelty" dog case in Valley Center and saying the dogs were Cavaliers and Silkies, I called Patty Kanan to alert rescue. This woman, sick as could be, barely able to talk above a croak, set into motion a machine that had people WAITING at the Shelter before the first truck pulled into the driveway with their pathetic load of survivors from doggie Auschwitz. At first the Shelter was not in favor of letting rescue help, thinking this was just another case of do-gooders who would be all talk and no action. But as the days progressed, the dogs were evaluated and the staff realized what a massive effort they faced, not only in bathing and clipping the dogs, but most of all socialization; as one official told me, "rescue was totally incredible in helping".

By now it was realized that the Silkies were in actuality Yorkies and that there were considerably more English Toys than Cavaliers. ET rescue joined Cavalier rescue (and SHAME on the Yorkie rescue for worrying about a law suit and refusing to help!) and the two formed a team that went to the Shelter each and every day to wash, groom and play with puppies. Patty Kanan put out a call on the web for people to do "touchy, feeley" with dogs who had apparently never felt the loving touch of a human hand, been held, cuddled or played with.

Having a morning free, I drove the hour trip to downtown San Diego, intending to spend an hour or two playing with puppies. That I did, letting wee things crawl over me, chew on my shoelaces, nibble on fingers and play hide-and-seek behind a crate. That worked well for the two litters born at the Shelter. For the other two litters, the puppies who ran into corners at the sight of people, all you could do was sit down with them and hold them, whisper words of love and encouragement while their little bodies shivered in your arms. Feelings of having your heart torn out of you for these little guys, warred with feelings of murder toward the insensitive excuse for a human being who didn't give a damn.

Coincidentally, this was the day Patty Kanan (representing Cavalier Rescue) and Cindy Lazzeroni (representing English Toy rescue) had made the five hour drive down from mid-state to go over the dogs, as breeders/owners, to evaluate them for the Shelter. Stopping to say hello and goodbye to them, I was handed a clipboard and asked to spell a team member. Eight hours later we had gone over, taped and filmed 131 dogs in two different locations. Cindy and Patty were in an exhausted physical and mental state that I hope to never have to experience myself. Dogs of all ages, mostly in the 1 to 3 year range, with what was left of their coats literally reeking of urine that baths hadn't been able to overcome. Eyes that wouldn't make contact with yours, ducking from hands reaching out for them, some unable to stand upright on a table. Endless words, repeated over and over on each page for each dog -"slipping patella's, eye injury, open fontanels, mismarked, crippled rears, unable to stand". I had the chance to read some of the initial reports made by the two attending vets, Dr. Kathy Jones and Dr Gundula Dunne, on half a dozen dogs. Words like "coats matted with feces and urine", "catatonic, very depressed", "scabs on sides", "grossly matted", "thin", "ear infections", "dermatitis". With the vet reports and rescue's input, 109 dogs were deemed healthy enough to be offered to the San Diego public for adopting. DO THE MATH!

Personally I brought home two with my from that day, both with eye problems that had landed them in the medical ward. They both have had numerous baths and still stink like urine when they run outside in the mornings and get the dew on their legs. Both at first looked at toys as if they were lumps of poop, had no idea what a biscuit was, wouldn't take a piece of baloney from my fingers, hit the ground when I went to pick them up or pet them, and wouldn't come into the house from the outside without being picked up and carried in. Three weeks later they wrestle each other to the ground, shred the squeekies out of the toys, from a dead sleep can hear the frig door open and respond in under two seconds, and bang on the screen door when they want inside.

Johnny was another story. Sandy Gray (ET rescue in San Diego) called the week after I brought my two home asking could I run down to the Shelter and pick up a heart case. My local vet, Dr Henry Van Wyk, (a sainthood candidate), had volunteered to foster any of the rescue dogs and provide free medical attention until they could be released to new homes. Sandy's air conditioning had gone out on her car and the heart case would have to stay at the Shelter for another three days before anyone could break free to pick him up and get him to Dr Henry's for evaluation. When David Johnson, the Shelter's Animal Medical Director, brought him out to me, it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears. A weak, fragile body behind eyes that bore the pain of a thousand lifetimes. Johnny sat on my lap on the long drive home, every so often letting out little cries. He had been diagnosed with having PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosis), a heart problem that should have been either operated on when he was four months old (he's estimated at being a little over a year old now); or he should have been put down to avoid the excruciating pain he was experiencing. Holding him was like putting your fingers next to a thin hose and feeling the water squish past your fingertips.

The prognosis was poor and a decision was a nightmare. Put him permanently out of the constant pain he was in; let him live out the month or two he was estimated to have left before his heart literally blew out; or take a chance on risky surgery to repair his frantically beating heart. Here was a dog who acted like he had no will to live, he had no interest in eating, was think to the point of being emaciated, surprisingly was housebroken (I surmise he either was born elsewhere and acquired by the alleged animal neglector, or had been sold and when the medical condition was determined, was returned to the animal hellhole). He seemed to want nothing more in life than to huddle in the back of a crate and be left alone in his misery, distrusting all humans who had either deserted or ignored him.

Dr. Nancy Hampel, an extremely gifted board certified surgeon, working with the Shelter, examined Johnny and offered to perform the delicate surgery at the financial rate she would give the Shelter. At this point, he was still technically the property of San Diego, given the fact that Mr. Garritson had failed to show up at a post-impoundment hearing to contest whether officers had probable cause to impound his 150 dogs. ET rescue volunteered to use their rapidly dwindling funds for the surgery and Animal Control was anxious not to have another rescued animal put into the "minus" column on final count. Let me say that the operation cost was over $1000 with a little better than 50/50 odds. Talk about a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

I never want to sit in another waiting room for a two and a half hour surgery, alternating between praying to all the Gods and Goddesses ever thought of by mankind to save this little guy, and wondering if I made the right decision by cutting his life short on an operating table.

Yes, Johnny made it, with a smaller physical heart, but a heart the size of America with all the good wishes and loving thoughts sent him by rescue people around the country.

Since English Toy's are such a small breed group (it is my understanding around 2000 are in this country), their rescue resources were extremely limited. Even on a national basis, the ET community is a tiny pool of individuals, so the Cavalier people joined forces to make this a one breed rescue effort. Coordinating this was the joint effort of the Cavalier King Charles Club of Southern California, The Cavaliers Of The West, Camino Real English Toy Spaniel Club and the English Toy Spaniel Club of America.

The Bay Area Cavalier Club sent their rescue representative to San Diego by car (over a thousand miles round trip) to pick up a number of medical case ET's to transport them to Northern California for medical attention and rehoming through the Camino Real ET Club. The National ET Club and the Camino Real ET Club have both exhausted their entire rescue funds on this one rescue; and I have been told of individual members who have dug really deep into their own pockets to help.

Anyone wishing to contribute, for ET, please send checks payable to Gail Reiter, mark in the memo space "ET RESCUE" and mail to her at 9650 Business Center Drive - Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. 91730 - Att: Linda Wilson. For CAVALIER contributions, Mrs. Cheryl Butler, Rescue Chair, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of So Ca - 6710 Daydream Ct - Bakersfield, Ca. 93312 ().

Unfortunately these clubs need to beef up their rescue funds because from an extremely reliable source has come the word that a certain ET kennel in England, who's only concern is the American dollar, is willing to send more dogs to the Garritsons.

To the people who have given unselfishly of their hearts, their time, their tears - the rest of the dog world can only whisper thanks and trust you hear them. To Patty Kanan and Cindy Lazzeroni who had to harden their hearts and stop their ears and eyes from functioning least they be overwhelmed by the tragedy of the dogs they had to evaluate. To Sandy and Ted Gray who were ET rescue in San Diego and were at the Shelter day after day, forsaking their own lives for the love of the breed. Words cannot adequately thank Jean Yokley who are appointed to act as liaison for Cavalier breed and all clubs. Save a tear for her also. She took home a beautiful little ET boy to love, who became ill a few days later and despite heroic efforts of everyone, succumbed to death, another victim of "pristine" living conditions. A big thank you to Liz Colton, Ron Wilson, Tamela Klisura, Stephanie Hart, and Susan Grayson who know the lounge area at the Shelter as well as their own kitchens from being there daily bathing and grooming approximately 60 dogs. Blessings to Leanne Harris, who closed her own grooming shop to spend the day welding a mean set of clipper blades. Thanks to LuAnn Tazzvaras and Jody Sutton who manned the phones interviewing potential adoptees for the Shelter, to Cindy Brogan and Joy Smith, Gail Reiter, Harriet Arnst and Michelle Mixon who helped socialize puppies and adults and who are fostering sick animals. Thanks also to those who at Patty's call, donated three full van loads of towels to be delivered to the Shelter. My apologies to anyone I missed acknowledging.

A special thank you to Pedigree, Nestle-Purina, Canidae, Iams and Petco. When Patty went to them asking for help, all these companies were more than generous with food, toys for the puppies, adults and special medical needs dogs.

Dawn Danielson, Assistant Director of Animal Control has a special place reserved for her in a heaven full of animals. She went to bat for the rescue groups in a political environment and made it her standard that the welfare of the dogs came first.

Last, but certainly not least, blessings in abundance heaped on David Johnson, Animal Medical Operations Director. A warmer, more sincerely caring person I have yet to meet. He walked into a ward, and even the shyest dog would crawl over to let him pet them. David was always there, day in and day out, to help, advise and offer a kind word and a shoulder to lean on for the rescue group.

Now, when was the last time you called and checked up on that last litter you sold, and the litter before? Did you sell this monster a dog? Were you so anxious to get that last puppy sold and out the door that you didn't listen to that warning bell ringing in the back of your heart? Can you go to sleep tonight knowing to the best of your knowledge that the animals you are responsible for bringing into this world are warm, not starving, not forced to sleep in a pool of urine, know how it feels to be petted and hear words of love and praise?

References: Newspaper websites:  Go to Archives or search on Garritson


 (staff writer Yvette Urrea)