Dogs crammed in 2-foot by 2-foot cages. Fur so matted it tripled dogs’ weight. A dog suffering from a softball-sized fecal blockage that prevented it from having a bowel movement. These were some of the horrors the St. Landry Parish Animal Control director says they found at the home of a woman arrested on 174 counts of animal cruelty for operating a puppy mill.
Anita Kathy Belaire, 60, of Opelousas, was booked Thursday on 174 counts of cruelty to animals after St. Landry Parish Animal Control launched an investigation in February into unsafe conditions at Belaire’s Lago Avenue home between Grand Coteau and Opelousas.
Terri Courvelle, animal control director, said the agency received an anonymous tip and visited Belaire’s home under the guise of purchasing a puppy. While there, they gathered enough evidence of abuse to meet probable cause standards and later executed a search warrant. She said their search revealed dirty, unsafe and neglectful conditions.
“It was horrific, to put it mildly,” Courvelle said.
The director said the dogs, mostly Shih Tzus, poodles, Pekingese and hybrid breeds ranging from six weeks to 10 years old, suffered from eye and skin issues, had no dental care, were afforded no human socialization and were haphazardly thrown outside at times to exercise and use the bathroom.
“There was really no rhyme or reason to her strategy. She would just take them by the neck and toss them outside in the mornings. I couldn’t even determine if any lived completely outside,” Courvelle said.
Animal control determined the woman was selling the animals online and primarily shipping them out of state, she said.
In February, when animal control initially searched the property, Belaire voluntarily surrendered 135 dogs and was allowed to maintain between 80 and 100 nursing puppies and mothers under an agreement stipulating she must provide medical and dental care, perform heartworm and fecal tests on the dogs and provide heartworm treatment for any positive animals by an agreed upon deadline. The agreement stipulated animal control could conduct wellness visits at any time, Courvelle said.
The animal control director said the move was key to freeing the dogs to be taken in by rescues, rather than be stuck in the parish shelter for the duration of court proceedings.
During a follow-up check, animal control agents determined none of the required measures had been taken and the remaining dogs on the property, between roughly 80 and 100 animals, were seized, as well as another 11 dogs from a relative’s home in the parish, Courvelle said.
Eventually 34 of the puppies were returned to Belaire’s possession; the animal control director said the dogs did not show signs of medical problems and they didn’t have grounds to withhold the dogs while the case is being adjudicated. Most of the animals had already been purchased, she said. The remaining animals seized were formally surrendered by Belaire.
Courvelle said some of the dogs died from parvo, or canine parvovirus, a highly contagious virus that primarily attacks the stomach and small intestine, while others were euthanized because of the severity of their condition.
The bulk of the animals survived and were rescued by partner organizations. The Bissell Pet Foundation, a nonprofit rescue group based in Michigan, took most of the 135 dogs initially seized to Michigan, while the Southern States Bully Rescue, a Florida nonprofit foster-based rescue, rescued many of the remaining dogs. Some were claimed by owners who had already purchased the animals from Belaire, Courvelle said.
None of the rescued dogs remain in the St. Landry Parish shelter, she said. The rescue organizations were critical to the dogs’ survival.
“These little dogs had thousands of dollars of medical bills...They were dire and the parish couldn’t fund that,” she said.