Seized dogs in alleged puppy mill being treated; suspect arrested

James Thornhill. Image source: Walthall County Sheriff's Department.
James Thornhill. Image source: Walthall County Sheriff's Department.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Tylertown man is charged with animal cruelty in connection to that suspected puppy mill in Walthall County. Sheriff's officials say James Thornhill, 72, turned himself in Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, Thornhill is also a Louisiana pastor. He has a plea date on June 20th. Authorities believe he owns the 104 dogs that were rescued Monday. Of those, 102 were taken to the Humane Society of South Mississippi where they are getting a lot of TLC.

Under the buzz of fans, dozens of dogs romped around in the cool comforts of their temporary home. Many were also clamoring for attention. Humane Society of South Mississippi officials said it was a whole new experience for the animals.

"We think yesterday was the first time that a lot of these animals saw sunlight and felt grass under their feet, so we're really excited to be able to start their new lives," said Krystyna Szczechowski, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of South Mississippi.

All 102 dogs seemed to be adjusting to their new environment after they were rescued from what Humane Society officials describe as horrible conditions at a suspected puppy mill in Tylertown.

"We've seen deplorable conditions before with the Stone County puppy mill, but this was beyond that. There was no ventilation. There was no access to light, no sunlight, no electrical, no light whatsoever," said Szczechowski. "It feels amazing to pull these animals out of these terrible conditions, and know that could have been the first time they've ever actually felt human hands, they've ever seen sunlight."

Most of the dogs range from eight months to eight-years-old. They are primarily pure-bred Yorkies, Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Dachshunds. They've already received their first shots, flea treatments, and full veterinary examinations. They'll also get their pictures taken and conditions documented, so the information can be used as evidence in the case.

"It feels so good to be able to give them their second chance. Honestly, for most of these dogs, it's their first chance," said Szczechowski. "They are really cute. A lot of them have great personalities that are already shining through."

A few of the animals are still skittish around humans. However, the Humane Society hopes to have all of the dogs available for adoption in a few weeks.

"We're giving them extra time to get used to being around people, being around light, being around air. We're giving them that time, but we're very hopeful that we can place all these guys into special homes. We can't wait for that day," said Szczechowski.

On Thursday, the dogs will be bathed and groomed. On Friday, they will be treated for skin problems and old injuries. WLOX will let you know when the adoptions will take place.

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