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Animals taken from South Boston pet shop

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News / October 11, 2021
Animal control and South Boston Police officers spent most of the day Friday removing 141 birds, reptiles and mammals from a Seymour Drive storefront where the owner of a pet grooming operation was housing the animals in unsanitary conditions.

The business, Precious Pets, had come under the attention of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, which notified local officers of the need to investigate. The Attorney General’s Office received photos of animals living in poor conditions which it passed onto local animal control.

In social media posts, Precious Pets touted the sale of birds, rodents and other pets as a sideline to the pet grooming business, owned by Jamie Henley. “She never officially opened the pet store,” said South Boston Animal Officer Mark Narron, who took part in the Friday operation at 1715 Seymour Drive.

Henley voluntarily surrendered the animals, none of which had to be euthanized. A total of 141 animals including geckos, a bearded dragon, cockatoos, parakeets, love birds, hamsters, rabbits, frog, adult cats, dozens of mice and rats, and a chicken were surrendered to the Halifax County Animal Control.

By taking possession of the animals from the owner voluntarily, Halifax County Animal Control can immediately begin the process of turning them over the rescue organizations for adoption. The county animal shelter is at full capacity, and if confiscation had been involved, animal control would have been forced to house the animals pending possible court proceedings. Charges are pending in the incident.

“The owner surrendered the pets, which was tremendous help because we didn’t have to keep them until [a] court date,” said Narron.

Police and animal control officers converged on the site around 11 a.m. on Friday, and Henley allowed the officers to come inside to assess conditions there. Following a brief walk-through Herron left for Halifax to obtain a court order for a search warrant, paving the way for an intervention that began in the afternoon and concluded in the early evening hours Friday.

Dr. Brandon Mallard, a veterinarian with the Halifax County Veterinarian Center, was summoned to evaluate the health of the pets, and police and animal control officers searched the premises. The South Boston Volunteer Fire Department also took part in the operation, bringing large fans to clear out a powerful scent of ammonia.

“I suffered from congestion the next morning from the ammonia,” said Narron, who added he was thankful Friday was not a hot day. “We should have been wearing respirators.”

As of Friday, Mallard had not issued a report on the animals’ condition to South Boston Police or Halifax County Animal Control.

Around 4 p.m. Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson delivered a rescue trailer for the teams to load up the animals. SBPD officers helped to escort the animals out of the building and onto the trailer.

“Most of the animals were rats and mice” and were socialized, making it easy to handle them, said Narron.

He and Halifax Animal Control Officer Laura Midkiff worked through the night Thursday and in the early morning hours Friday cataloging the animals. The combined work of the departments went very smoothly, Narron added.

“Midkiff and I were on the same page, we think just alike,” he said.

City of Richmond Animal Care and Control, which also took part in the operation, aided in the rescue of some of the pets.

As charges are still pending, Narron said there is no indication that malice was involved, but conditions at the shop had gotten out of hand with no way to remedy the situation other than to remove the animals. Narron said Henley was “very emotional and cooperative” as officers searched the premises and removed the animals, and she and several of her friends stayed around throughout the day.

In a social media post in June 2020, Henley told followers of her business that she had “started really working on the new Seymour shop” and “hopefully will be able to start grooming there in a few weeks.” In July and August of this year, the business’ Facebook page advertised exotic birds, rats, hamsters and other small animals for sale. “Lots of babies,” read one post.

In 2020, in response to complaints of pet shops harboring animals in poor conditions, the Virginia General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 891, introduced by Fairfax state Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37). The law requires the State Veterinarian’s Office to develop comprehensive regulations for the keeping of dogs, cats and rabbits at any pet shop store. Standards of adequate care would be implemented to provide for exercise, feed, water, proper cleaning and lighting for animals housed at pet shops.

The law also empowers the State Animal Welfare Office to conduct at least one unannounced inspection of each pet shop selling dogs and cats annually. The regulations are due to go into effect in 2022.

Separate, less stringent regulations apply to pet shops that sell birds, reptiles and smaller mammals such as rodents.

Narron, the South Boston animal control officer, said anyone who is interested in opening a pet store in Halifax County should maintain a clean store at all times, and pet store owners are responsible for the health of every animal, even if it arrives not well. In such situations, the ailing animal should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Pet shop owners should only contract with reputable dealers, Narron added.

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