Girl dies, puppy mill discovered

Relates to:
Date: 2008-05-20
Source: Daily Journal

By Emily Le Coz

NEW ALBANY - A case of extreme child neglect here Sunday night led to one death, two felony counts and the discovery of a mass puppy breeding operation that has animal officials stunned.

Union County Sheriff's deputies raided the home of Janet and Ramone Barreto, 824 County Road 87 near New Albany, after receiving a tip from doctors that the couple might have abused their adopted daughter.

Once at the home, law-enforcement agents also found more than 180 dogs, 25 cats and several ducks in various conditions. The animals' numbers are expected to increase, because some of them continue to give birth.

Sheriff Tommy Wilhite said the Barreto's 2-year-old daughter was brought from a local hospital to Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis for an unspecified reason. Doctors there suspected child neglect and tipped off Wilhite on Sunday night, when he obtained a warrant and raided the property.

The 2-year-old died Monday morning, but a cause of death was not yet available.

All but one of the couple's nine children now are in protective custody, Wilhite said, although he did not give the whereabouts of the remaining child.

The animals are being taken care of by the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, which was called by the sheriff's department Sunday night.

The couple has been charged with two felony counts of child neglect and could face more charges as the investigation continues, Wilhite said. Tupelo-Lee Humane Society officials say they might press charges, too, for animal neglect.

In the meantime, the humane society has filed a warrant for order of protection on the property to allow staff to enter the property and take care of the animals. It also filed a seizure warrant to take the animals from the property, said shelter director Debbie Hood.

Both have been granted.

"We're going to remove any animals that are in emergency situations," Hood said. "We will have a veterinarian assess the situation (Tuesday) and make recommendations. Then we'll need to disperse the animals to different organizations and various volunteers for temporary care of the animals."

Hood described the situation there as a puppy mill - a large-scale breeding operation where the puppies are sold for profit. Those in the mill included Yorkies, English bulldogs, Shitzus, and Pugs, which apparently were sold at various Northeast Mississippi flea markets.

Several area rescue groups have said they will take a few animals, but more are needed to help. Also needed are pet carriers, food bowls and volunteers to go to New Albany and feed the other animals until they can be placed, Hood said.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com

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