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10 years after Richland Co. rescue, advocates see progress in animal protection

MADISON (WKOW) — Ten years after hundreds of mistreated animals were seized from a pet rescue in Richland County, animal advocates say there’s been progress toward protecting pets in Wisconsin.

In May 2009, animal welfare teams raided Thyme and Sage Ranch in Cazenovia, rescuing more than 400 animals. Most were dogs, but they also seized horses, cats and rabbits.

Dane County Humane Society worked with other animal advocates, rescues and shelters to find homes for the animals, setting up a temporary emergency shelter in the parking lot of the Madison facility.

“It was really upsetting to see the animals and the conditions. They came in under-socialized and fearful dogs. But there was just a lot of outpouring of support we got from the community and for all the organizations pulling together,” said DCHS animal operations manager Sarah Byerly.

The shelter spent more than $100,000 and many months caring for the animals.

Jacki Witkowski was one of many who volunteered and ended up adopting one of the Thyme and Sage dogs.

“Just seeing the sad cases of all those dogs and knowing that all of them needed to find a home,” she said.

She and her husband Dave worked with the dog they named Faith, to help her become comfortable with people. 

“The first two weeks she was in the corner underneath the table and wouldn’t really come out except to go outside and then came back in,” Dave said.

That was the story of many of the dogs that came from the facility that was supposed to be a safe place for rescued animals.

Since the Thyme and Sage case, lawmakers have passed what was known as the “puppy mill” law, to protect animals living with breeders.

The law requires facilities to register, meet care standards and go through regular inspections.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection set up a team of inspectors to monitor registered businesses. DATCP staff visit them every two years, or when concerns are raised.

State officials tell 27 News there are three most common violations in the law: errors in record-keeping, improper cleaning of cages and facility maintenance for dogs kept outdoors.

There are 468 licensed businesses, as of May 2019. The law took effect in 2011.

Since 2011, 85 licenses have either been denied to applicants or have been discontinued due to failure to comply with aspects of the law, according to DATCP officials.

Byerly says the law also gives the community power in keeping animals safe, by providing a place to report concerns and get answers to questions about local businesses.

“It was really sad to see that number of animals. I feel if we had had better laws in place sooner that a lot of suffering could have could have been avoided,” Byerly said.

The legislation was already proposed before the Thyme and Sage case gained attention, but animal advocates believe it made an impact moving forward with the law.

It provides measures that could have helped mistreated animals at Thyme and Sage, but many were able to overcome their conditions.

Now, Faith is about 12 years old and doing great. The Witkowskis have started fostering other animals and working as animal advocates. 

“I think it was my passion from them that drove me to a local rescue and helping with them and doing a transport with them and just volunteering in general,” Jacki said.

10 years later, Faith’s owners are hoping the state will continue thinking of the vulnerable victims and take more steps to protect animals.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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