In 2009, a Parson Russell terrier from the Rocky Ridge Russells kennel in New Jersey won the best in breed title at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Many other dogs from the high-end breeding facility, co-owned by partners Marcia Knoster and Martin Zrozeski, also won various shows.
But during the decade since then, things at Rocky Ridge have apparently gone terribly downhill.
In response to complaints from neighbors, rescuers removed 188 dogs from filthy conditions at the 10-acre farm on June 11. Many of the dogs, mostly Parson Russell terriers and dachshunds, had wounds and skin infections. Some were pregnant. Twenty dogs were already dead.
“It all just got out of hand,” Strozeski told the New York Times. “This wasn’t backyard breeding. Things just went sideways.”
Strozeski said the problems started during the Great Recession, when people stopped buying the breeders’ dogs. The kennel’s population of 25 or so dogs boomed over the years to more than 150. Strozeski said they couldn’t even give the dogs away. What once had seemed to be good hobby turned very, very bad.
The dogs were removed from the property by a team including staff from St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, the Monmouth County SPCA, the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office’s major crimes unit, and state police.
Strozeski told the New York Times that news reports had exaggerated the facility’s squalid living conditions. He said he regularly provided the dogs with food and water, and changed their bedding daily.
Nora Parker, the goodwill ambassador at St. Hubert’s, agreed that the dogs appeared to be well fed. “But that’s not all a dog needs,” she pointed out to the New York Times. “They need space and socialization and human contact, and it appeared they were not getting enough of that.”
The dogs are currently being cared for at St. Hubert’s and the Monmouth County SPCA. Some of the dogs in better shape are already available for adoption. Meanwhile, an animal cruelty investigation is underway by the Hunterdon County prosecutor’s office.
“This is a very complex issue,” Parker told NJ.com. “We’re a humane society, so we try to treat the human side of this with compassion as well because it is very complex.” She said she’s grateful Hunterdon County’s social services are working on the human side, “because we don’t know exactly when this took a wrong turn but what we are focusing on now is the good care of the dogs.”
In a statement, the AKC said it was “saddened to learn of this unfortunate situation and are grateful for the care being provided to the affected dogs,” the New York Times reports. “Supporting and promoting responsible dog breeding and ownership has been a key core value of the Westminster Kennel Club for over 140 years,” the organization said.
Across the country, less than two weeks before the Rocky Ridge dogs were rescued, 136 dogs were removed from filthy conditions inside a multimillion-dollar mansion in Orange, Calif. It was another sad case where outward appearances proved to be very deceiving.
And, similarly to what happened after the news broke about the dogs rescued in Orange County, the New Jersey shelters caring for the Rocky Ridge dogs have been amazed by the generosity of people wanting to help them.
“We want to thank everyone who has offered an overwhelming amount of support for the Hunterdon County dogs,” the Monmouth County SPCA wrote on its Facebook page June 13. “Our team has been working tirelessly for the past 48 hours getting all of these dogs medically assessed — meaning bloodwork, vaccinations, microchips, ear cleaning, flea/tick preventative, nail trims, de-matting, bathing and the list goes on and on! Many of these dogs will need additional surgeries after their spay/neuter and we’re so grateful we have such an amazing group of animal lovers LIKE YOU supporting us.”
For information about what you can do to help, visit the websites of the Monmouth County SPCA and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.
Photo credit: Eyewitness News ABC7NY/YouTube