Written by: Emily Richards, fellow dog mom, friend and animal advocate
In April of 2018, Animal Rescue Corps received a call for help. ARC is an organization that responds to animal rescue missions nationwide. When inhumane hoarding, breeding, abandonment, dog fighting, and various other abuse and neglect cases are uncovered around the country, Animal Rescue Corps is called in to assist local law enforcement with animal removal. This specific April 2018 call was asking for help with a massive, inhumane, multi-species mill operation in Carroll County Tennessee. There were over 150 animals at this location and it was well out of the realm of what law enforcement could handle on their own.
While 150+ animals may sound insane to you, mill operations of this scale and depravity are all too familiar to ARC volunteers. Little did the volunteers know, despite similar conditions, this rescue mission would be different than any they had dealt with before. When they arrived on scene they saw a large, scenic property with an upscale home. Outward appearances were deceptively manicured and maintained. Driving by, you would never know the horrors going on behind closed doors. Every rescue mission gets a name, and due to the vast diversity of species at this location, this one was dubbed Operation Noah’s Ark.
The defendants in this case, Tara Neutzler and Donald Schoenthal, were breeding anything and everything at this location to sell online, in pet stores, and various other markets. The living animals seized included 43 dogs, 37 cats, 17 rabbits, 10 geese, 8 chickens, 6 ducks, 6 goats, 5 sheep, 5 chinchillas, 4 ferrets, and 2 alpacas. All were kept in deplorable conditions without access to clean water or food. Animals were starving, they were matted, dehydrated, suffering from blatantly obvious upper respiratory and eye infections. Live animals were housed in crates with deceased animals. Buckets with decaying corpses were found around the property as well as skeletal remains of various species. Animals were living in large quantities of their own waste. The ammonia levels were highly toxic and extremely dangerous. They were some of the highest levels recorded by ARC. Scotlund Haisley, the founder of ARC suffered severe health complications from assisting on this rescue even though he wore a respirator.
Most of the time in cases handled by ARC, the animals are surrendered to ARC custody in a matter of weeks. ARC then places them with their pre-approved rescue partners across the country where the animals find their forever homes. With such obvious, well documented abuse, so many animals, and the arrest of Neutzler and Schoenthal, one would expect the same outcome. However, one would be wrong.
The defendants; though charged with 34 felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, 118 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, 2 counts of aggravated child neglect, and 2 counts of attempted aggravated child neglect; were unwilling to surrender the animals. The defendants had access to seemingly endless funds after years of profiting off the mill operation. They didn’t want to let go of the animals they profited off of. The defendants fully expected to be able to resume this operation and get off on their criminal charges. They used their unlimited funds to fight this case in court. Their goal was to push ARC past their financial and volunteer limits.
Since they were not willing to surrender the animals, the defendants were required to pay a bond to cover the cost of caring for them. ARC submitted actual expenses and receipts for the extensive medical care and basic day to day care to the judge. The Judge, citing “fairness” and “common sense” set this bond at less than $1/day despite the receipts and proof of actual costs provided by ARC which he deemed “inflated”. Any animal owner knows that $1/day is not enough to cover basic needs. It was an outrageous ruling and it helped the defendants with their goal of overburdening ARC. The case dragged on and appeal after appeal went through the courts.
On May 10, 2019 law enforcement in Putnam County Tennessee went to serve arrest warrants at a property on an unrelated matter. When they arrived, they discovered another inhumane mill operation with conditions similar to those of Operation Noah’s Ark. Amidst the filth and sick animals sat one small, immaculate area with a staged background for photographing animals to be sold. This property was also owned and operated by Tara Neutzler and Donald Schoenthal-the defendants from the Noah’s Ark case. Forty-two animals were saved in this second mission dubbed Operation Storm’s End. This second case finally helped the original case progress through the courts. On May 22, 2019 the defendants decided to make a plea deal and surrender the animals from both cases. In addition to surrendering 100% of the animals, they each pleaded guilty to one felony count and three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. The defendants will not be allowed to own or keep animals for 10 years. They will be sentenced on July 22, 2019. Nearly 200 animals will finally be able to move on with their lives!
While Operation Noah’s Ark was dragged out for 409 days, longer than previous ARC operation, ARC didn’t stop running other rescue missions! They still saved animals from horrifying circumstances whenever they were asked. One of these cases was in Mississippi and involved a trailer where tenants had been evicted. When vacating the trailer, they left behind 13 dogs. The landlord discovered the dogs at least three weeks after the property was vacated. As soon as they were notified, ARC was on the case! They rescued all of the dogs from this disgusting property. This mission was dubbed Operation Discarded Dogs. These dogs, along with the dogs from Operations Noah’s Ark and Storm’s End have all been surrendered and are now able to come to ARC’s rescue partners!
Second City Canine Rescue, One Tail At a Time, and Alive Rescue are three local Chicagoland rescues taking dogs (Alive is also taking cats) from these operations. Click the button for more information on what fostering looks like with these amazing rescues if you would like to get involved!
Second City Canine Rescue is in need of fosters for a seven year old, male, standard poodle from Operation Storm’s End as well as several Flat coat retriever mixes from Operation Discarded Dogs. The dogs will be arriving in Chicago on Saturday, June 1st. The next SCCR orientation will be held on Saturday, June 1st from 10am-11am at the Bucktown Wicker Park Branch of Chicago Public Libraries, located at 1701 N Milwaukee. Please come out and learn about all the ways you can help save animals like these!
You can follow the amazing work of Animal Rescue Corps on their Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/AnimalRescueCorps/ where they also post legal updates on their rescue missions.