Mt. Vernon Couple Cop a Plea in Puppy Mill Case That Rescuer Calls "The Most Disgusting Thing I've Ever Seen"

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Courtesy of Teresa Letellier
Richard and Marjorie Sundberg can't ever own an animal again. The couple, accused of running a deplorable puppy mill near Mount Vernon, are barred from doing so by a plea agreement they reached yesterday with prosecutors. That's why animal rescuer Teresa Letellier is hailing the agreement as a victory even though the Sundbergs, who pleaded guilty to four counts of animal cruelty, are getting off with community service rather than jail time.

"We're hoping it sets a precedent," says Letellier, president of the Bellingham-based group Saving Pets One at a Time (SPOT).

She adds that the high-profile prosecution should put other puppy mill owners on notice.

Working with law enforcement authorties in January of 2009, Letellier and other members of her organization went to the Sundbergs' place to get the dogs out and find care for them. "It was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life," she says.

More than 400 dogs were stacked "cage upon cage," each animal dropping feces and urine on top of another. The stench was so overpowering that the rescue workers kept running outside for air.

The dogs were also emaciated and had serious medical issues, Letellier says. One had a hernia. Another lacked a lower jaw because all his teeth had rotted and he had developed gangrene.

Perhaps most horrific of all, she says, was the area the Sundbergs' labeled the "maternity ward," where mothers and pups languished in squalor, lacking even clean water.

SPOT, which lacks a shelter of its own, initially cared for the animals at the Skagit Valley Fairgrounds. Later, the group found shelters or foster caretakers for them. Letellier, who took a couple of the dogs in herself, says many are doing well. But some have chronic medical or behavioral issues, like skin problems or persistent fear.

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