|Eugene Thorp and Linda Harmelink||puppymill - 46 dogs found with numerous pups||Calico Basin, NV Clark County||November 11, 2002|
In a hidden camera investigation, News 3 Investigators team up with Humane Society volunteers to expose what authorities have labeled a puppymill operating right here in Las Vegas.
Puppymills are traditionally found in the midwest. Breeders who run them produce puppies constantly to turn big profits. The puppymill we found in Las Vegas spurred almost immediate action by law enforcement when they saw what was uncovered.
A News 3 photographer with a hidden camera went to the property at Calico Basin to accompany a Humane Society volunteer, posing as a prospective dog buyer. She's was following up on a tip that this ranch is operating a puppymill.
(Photo courtesy of KVBC News 3) Thorp and his wife, Linda Harmelink run Saddle Bark Ranch but instead of offering to bring us to see the puppies where they're bred, Harmelink brought a basket of puppies to us in the controlled comfort of their living room.
Just how are the animals bred at Saddle Bark Ranch? There are rows and rows of cages containing many different breeds. "West Highland Terriers, a pair of Cocker Spaniels." The Maltese is selling for $550, the Poodles are $500 per puppy.
After seeing our hidden camera video, officers from Animal Control, County Business Licensing and Code Enforcement dropped in for a surprise inspection at Saddle Bark Ranch. "There was an excess amount of animals and they had no business license and no permit. It was not zoned for running an establishment of that sort."
(Photo's courtesy of KVBC News 3)
These officers saw what we saw and a whole lot more. They found 46 adult dogs and an untold number of puppies. Their inspection led to the district attorney filing two 10-count criminal complaints. Harmelink and Thorp are each charged with failing to maintain the health and comfort of the animals. None of the dogs had current rabies vaccinations. There were no records of veterinary care. The charges allege the couple kept 36 dogs confined in wire cages in a cruel and inhumane manner, so as to produce torture. The cages were found in sheds without enough light or air, infested with cockroaches, flies and ants and with a large accumulation of feces and a strong odor of urine.
Neither owner of Saddle Bark Ranch would go on camera to respond to the district attorney's charges. Over the phone, Thorp told me they raise nothing but decent dogs and have since gotten rid of them all, shipping them back to Harmelink's mother in Iowa. Harmelink claims she's being treated like a rapist or a murderer. She maintains all the dogs were healthy, and says she wishes she'd been given the opportunity to change what the county officials thought were wrong.
A plea agreement has been reached with the owners. The owners of Saddle Bark Ranch have been forbidden from running a puppymill operation, and, in fact, they can't have more than 3 dogs on the property without proper permits. Harmelink plead guilty to 4 criminal counts of improper enclosures, unsanitary conditions, too many animals, and no notice of available veterinary records.
In exchange for Harmelink's 4 guilty pleas, the charges against her husband, Eugene Thorp were dismissed, as were the other 6 counts of her original 10. She agreed to pay restitution to Animal Control for their investigative costs, plus a $1,000 fine, and has to stay out of trouble for one year.
Animal Control must also be allowed to conduct re-checks on the Saddle Bark Ranch property.
KVBC News 3