When Robin Mitchell fostered Selene, a Leonberger that was rescued from a local dog farm, her fur was so matted with mud and feces Mitchell had to scrub her clean for two days.
"They all stunk so bad," Mitchell said. "It was so bad I couldn't take her home at first … It took about two days to get her clean."
Mitchell, a well-known supporter of the dog community and advocate in several Aiken animal welfare organizations including the Humane Society in Columbia, said Selene also had a condition called "mush feet," where her paws were soft and spread out from living without standing on a firm surface. Even as a 7-month-old puppy, Selene is the size of a large dog, and is extremely timid and shy.
Selene was one of nearly 100 dogs rescues received from a Moore Road dog farm in Aiken County earlier in December. The rescues, several of which came from out of state, declined to comment on the state of the animals, but Mitchell, who assisted the rescues off-site, said many of them looked like Selene.
"(There was) a lot of very dirty, muddy, poopy dreadlocks all over them," Mitchell said about the dogs she saw. "…Dogs that were terrified, scared to death of people and everything around them, not vetted and not completely healthy."
As far as Mitchell could tell, Selene, and many of the other dogs she saw, had never been taken to a vet.
These conditions were echoed by David Goodwick, who fostered four dogs from Moore Road. Goodwick's property was used as a transfer site for several rescues transporting dogs from off the property.
"We got one Bernese mountain dog," Goodwick said. "He was a reject because he had one blue eye and one brown eye, so they had no use for him. And we got a Leonberger. They gave that to us because he had a splay on his back feet, so he wasn’t show quality…and I've got a dog that just had her puppies taken away. She was absolutely filthy and just stunned."
All the dogs Goodwick received had worms, he said. One also had an injury to one of her paws, and he picked about 20 wood ticks off another. He said none of the dogs he saw were emaciated, but all of his were underweight, one of them by 25 pounds.
"I’ve been introducing them to the concept of a dog dish, which is completely foreign to them," Goodwick said.
Goodwick claims the dogs are extremely loving but very "gun shy," startled by sudden movements from people.
According to one witness, the Moore Road property contained as many as 120 dogs kept in unfavorable conditions.
"As I got closer to the kennels, I was seeing too many dogs in a kennel, the stench of the urine, the muddy conditions," said Kay Byrnes, of Aiken. "There were some dogs that didn’t even get up, didn’t even respond to my presence."
Byrnes claimed she also saw many younger dogs kept in horse stalls that were so dark, she could barely see inside.
She counted 120 dogs before she had to stop.
"I couldn't count them all," Byrnes said. "There were so many."
The farm belongs to local breeder Bob Schwegler, who also owns Angel Kiss Farms on Century Lane in Aiken. Bernese mountain dogs, Leonbergers, Jack Russell terriers and poodle mixes were removed from the Moore Road property.
Bob Schwegler declined to comment for this article.
Aiken County Animal Shelter Manager Bobby Arthurs confirmed that Aiken County Animal Control had visited the property on Dec. 7.
"We did go out there Friday (Dec. 7), and we will be back and forth monitoring," Arthurs said.
Arthurs and other members of Animal Control declined to comment on the state of the dogs on the Moore Road property due to a pending court case against Schwegler, who is facing nuisance charges, but Director of Aiken County Code Enforcement Department Paige Bayne said the charges may be dropped in January.
"The owner has been very cooperative and is doing what needs to be done to meet compliance," said Bayne.
"He did say he was downsizing," Arthurs said.
Bayne said Animal Control would not currently be seizing any dogs from the property.
Though the majority of dogs were removed from Moore Road, it is unclear how many remain.
Bayne said if compliance was not met by the court date, Schwegler could face "additional charges increasing the probability of jail time, additional fines and seizure of the remaining dogs" in an email.