Four charged after 66 dogs taken from condemned site

One of the four shar-peis available for adoption Friday.

Sixty-six Shar-Peis cowered in crates in a dark garage until they were rescued from Berkeley County breeders who were arrested this week, according to investigators.

Animal Control had received complaints about Shenanigans Shar Pei since at least 2010, according to reports that led to the arrests. But officials said they never realized how bad it was until code enforcement condemned the house at 1249 Old Dairy Road near Summerville in January.

The owners, Michael Duane Lauer, 63, and Susan Knisley Lauer, 69, were charged with 21 counts of ill treatment of an animal, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000 on each charge, the Sheriff’s Office announced Friday. They had advertised themselves as breeders of champion Shar-Peis.

By the time the house was condemned, the Lauers had moved out and were living at Harry’s Fish Camp in Pineville, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Investigators said they were trying to sell the business to John Christopher Barnett and Tracy Humbert Lamere, both 45, who still lived at the house.

Barnett and Lamere also were arrested and face the same charges.

The dogs were taken to Doc Williams SCPA in Moncks Corner for rehabilitation and adoption. Director Marcia Atkinson recalled the day she went to the house with Animal Control officers.

“From the exterior, it looked like an everyday brick ranch-style house,” she said. “It’s possible nobody had any idea they had that many dogs in there.”

Most of the dogs were blind because the owners had let the skin that defines the breed grow over their eyes. Many couldn’t hear well because of ear infections. A report given to the Sheriff’s Office notes hair loss, lacerations and other signs of physical injury.

“I think what makes this even more horrendous is that they were experts in this particular breed and folks looked to them for information on care and medical support, yet they did not provide any of these services for these dogs,” Atkinson said. “It just breaks my heart.”

Vets cut back the skin over their eyes and nursed most of them back to health.

“These dogs didn’t know how to play,” Atkinson said. “We tried to give them toys. They didn’t know what to do with them.”

Shar-Pei lovers from across the country came forward to give them homes. They started a Facebook page called SC66 Where Are They Now to share their stories. The most recent posts expressed gratitude for the arrests.

Four dogs were still up for adoption as of Friday.

Animal Control had received several complaints about the health of dogs bought from Shenanigans and dirty conditions at the house over the last few years, according to records released after a Freedom of Information request.

John Nutter, chief officer for county Animal Control, said officers checked out complaints as they received them but never saw enough to believe they should seize the animals.

“We don’t have any ordinances to limit the number of animals on a property, so we couldn’t really address that issue,” he said. “As for the issues that have recently come to light, there was no way for us to have seen those back then, if they even existed back then.”

Animal Control officers can only enforce a county ordinance that says mistreating an animal is a misdemeanor, he said. That’s why the investigation was turned over to the Sheriff’s Office after veterinarians at the shelter completed their reports and examinations, Nutter said.

Puppy mills are a continual problem around the country, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. On the same day as the Berkeley County arrests, the ASPCA sent out an announcement that more than 130 dogs that had been seized last month from a breeder in Choctaw, Ala., were available for adoption. Chihuahuas, chows, Pomeranians and other small breeds were living in “filthy, deplorable conditions, with many suffering from malnourishment and other medical issues,” according to the announcement.

The dogs were sent to shelters around the country, including the Charleston Animal Society, which took 29 of them.

“As long as I’ve been working in this business, I still don’t understand how people could do this to dogs,” Animal Society Chief Executive Officer Joe Elmore said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.