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Big raid at alleged puppy mill

A Lamar County couple face multiple charges after a raid on an alleged puppy mill last week at their home at 900 Johnstonville Road turned up dozens of dogs living in deplorable conditions in a feces-filled kennel without food and water. John David Matthews, 63, and Latitia Adelle Matthews, 39, were arrested March 13 when state agriculture department personnel and LCSO investigators went to the 75-acre tract following up on complaints from purchasers who bought sick puppies from the operation known as Sweet Basil Kennels. WARNING: THE IMAGE INSIDE THIS SUBSCRIBER ONLY POST MAY BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC BY SOME. ******************** NOTICE: This story and photo(s) are under copyright. They may not be republished or disseminated in any form or format – including social media – without explicit permission. ********************* The initial search turned up 32 dogs confined in a long kennel without food and water, 18 live pigs and nine dead pigs. Two young dogs were seen eating one of the dead pigs. After warrants were issued, investigators, veterinarians, personnel from the district attorney’s office and animal rescue personnel did an exhaustive search of the kennel, home, outbuildings and property that took two days. Sheriff Brad White posted deputies at the property overnight March 13. David Matthews and Latitia Matthews were each charged with 43 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals, three felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and seven counts of improper disposal of dead swine. Bond for each was set at $86,500 at a hearing Friday by chief magistrate Karen R. Jackson. The pair bonded out March 15 using separate local bail bondsmen. The felony counts allege the pair ‘willingly, knowingly and maliciously’ caused the deaths of two puppies and the serious disfigurement of a third. As conditions of their bonds, the Matthews cannot possess any animals and must bury any additional dead animals they locate on the property while they are free. Interim district attorney Elizabeth Bobbitt and assistant DA Cindy Adams were at the bond hearing. Bobbitt said feral cats and pigs remain on the property. The Matthews were ordered to attempt to catch the animals and call LCSO investigator Chad Payne if they are successful in order that the animals can be removed and the defendants will not be in violation of the conditions of their bonds. ’The only food we found on the property was a small bag of cat food so I anticipate they could catch the cats,’ Bobbitt told Judge Jackson. Officials from the Atlanta Humane Society reported 44 dogs were rescued from the property. Breeds included golden doodles, Bernese mountain dogs, golden retrievers, German shepherds and Great Pyrenees. Also recovered were three box turtles and two guinea pigs. The animals were taken to shelters, most of them in the Atlanta area. Sheriff White reported the Matthews voluntarily surrendered the dogs and other animals, now considered evidence, to authorities. Bobbitt said her office is working with other potential victims and more charges could be forthcoming. Others who bought sick puppies from Sweet Basil Kennels are urged to come forward and contact authorities. ‘We appreciate the prompt and thorough investigation done by the Lamar County sheriff’s office,’ she added. Bobbitt also had praise for the animal protection unit of the Atlanta Humane Society. ‘They responded with transport vans, a veterinarian, technicians and an attorney,’ she said. ’Thankfully, the laws in this state recognize both intentional harm to animals resulting in death or disfigurement and intentional neglect in providing food, water and shelter for animals that people have chosen to own or have guardianship over. Penalties for abuse can include penitentiary time. Under the law, we can seek cost of care from those who neglect animals so we can make offenders pay for the vetting, sheltering and grooming of these animals,’ Bobbitt concluded. CAPTIONS: The open image on this post shows a pig bolting from underneath the front porch of the Matthews home at 900 Johnstonville Rd. during a raid on an allegedly puppy mill there March 13. According to the Lamar County tax assessors website, the home is 6094 square feet with an additional 4063 square foot basement. There are multiple outbuildings on the 78.72 acre property which is valued at $562,342 for tax purposes. The subscriber only image shows a dead pig lying just outside the doors of the Matthews kennel with a Golden Retriever inside. The kennel wire is damaged. Investigators said this was caused by hungry, confined dogs attempting to chew through the wire to get to the dead pig. (Photos: Walter Geiger)

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