Linnu street in the Tammelinn district of Tartu is the very embodiment of a quiet suburb, with small houses surrounded by picket fences. However, one such seemingly peaceful house hid a sinister business and had the neighbors on the verge of despair.
The house was a puppy factory for Liidia Alviine Valge where 18 dogs, 15 cats, 29 chinchillas and two guinea pigs were kept in horrendous conditions. Representatives of the Veterinary and Food Board and the Estonian Kennel Union were met with an overpowering stench and a sight difficult to describe upon entering the house.
“Piles of trash, feces everywhere, dust and cobwebs – it was like a horror flick,” member of the board of the kennel union Ulvi Männama said.
A blood-curdling sight
Living in small cages in the midst of this landfill were cats, dogs and rodents. Golden retrievers locked in feces-covered cages and buried under trash didn’t even have water. The building’s pitch black cellar held cages with chinchillas stacked on top of one another.
“I have visited many puppy farms, while this one was the worst I have seen,” said Tiina Kukk, chief specialist for animal welfare for the Veterinary and Food Board (PTA). Until her detention, Valge was a well-known breeder of golden retrievers in Estonia for over two decades.
Events did not start in this house of horrors last Wednesday. Inspectors first visited Valge’s dog salon on Kalda tee. “We received a hint that the smell of feces was coming from a dog salon, which is what prompted the visit,” Kukk said. “It was a ghastly sight, with mold-covered feces in a corner and eight puppies all with a severe case of diarrhea in the middle of it all.”
The “farmer” was also present and less than happy to see the inspectors, demanding the police be called. “All such animal abusers rely on the excuse that they were about to start cleaning and that we simply came at a bad time,” Kukk said.
But seeing the excuse was not having the desired effect, Valge resorted to more drastic measures. The woman lied down on the floor, grabber her chest and proceeded to seemingly die.
Before the ambulance took Valge away, she gave the kennel union representative keys to the house in Tammelinn. Officials were met with the aforementioned sight upon their arrival.
Kukk described as unfortunate the fact that neighbors knew what was happening and had turned to the city government on numerous occasions but to no avail. Senior controller of the city government’s monitoring department Ülle Neeme admitted that complaints were received.
“We visited the house a year ago, together with the Veterinary Board (now the PTA – L. S.), but she had managed to clean everything up by the time we got there, only the stench remained,” Neeme explained. Männama had previously visited the salon and reported the situation as satisfactory, in everything besides the stench.
The recent raid lasted into the night on Wednesday, with cats and dogs moved to the Tartu animal shelter and the rodents to the University of Life Sciences’ small animals’ clinic. A pregnant dog was also rescued and given into the care of doctors.
Puppies suffering from diarrhea
Project manager at the Tartu animal shelter Kirke Roosaar said that no animal was in critical condition, while the puppies were suffering from diarrhea.
“The adult dogs rushed to drink when we gave them water,” Roosaar said. “It is likely the owner had not given them water for quite some time.”
While there is great interest in adopting the animals rescued from the puppy farm, the shelter is not giving them out just yet.
What will happen next? Kukk said that criminal proceedings will be brought against Valge and that she will be stripped of her right to own animals. The Estonian Kennel Union will expel Valge.
The PTA has taken away 582 animals this year, with around ten potential factories under surveillance, including one in Tartu County. “People notice signs of danger more often, which gives us a better chance of discovering such enterprises,” Kukk said.