Dog News

Ernest’s Story: What Happens When We Work Together


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By Vanessa Budnick, SPCA of Wake County Humane Educator


Ernest at Puppy Mill
Ernest at Puppy Mill

On March 14, 2012, Ernest, a six-year-old French bulldog, was rescued from a puppy mill in Jones County, North Carolina along with 90 other dogs after a concerned consumer looking to buy a puppy was horrified by conditions and called law enforcement.

Fortunately the sheriff’s department reached out to the Humane Society of the United States to organize a response team. HSUS contacted the SPCA of Wake County to provide sheltering services for the animals.

I was a first responder on that day. We could smell the property from a quarter mile. The next sensation was the sound. A cacophony of barks, yips and yowls assaulted our ears. And then it was the sight of seemingly innumerable faces, some frantic and frightened, others thrilled and expectant.

Used only for reproduction and denied veterinary care, these small breed dogs were severely neglected and living in filth. Many suffered from deformities of poor breeding. One dog’s belly dragged the ground with a mass so large that she could hardly walk.

Ernest was one of the “lucky” ones living inside the home. But he was actually one of the dogs in the worst condition. Living in a cat carrier under a pile of other cages, he barked with excitement when he saw his rescuers.

Ernest after adoption
Ernest after adoption

Ernest’s skin was scarred and thickened due to extreme, neglected allergies. Parts of his body resembled elephant hide and his lack of hair made him look grey. His face and joints were swollen with infection and he was bleeding from the rectum. His vision was impaired due to chronic neglect.

Ernest was rushed to Care First Animal Hospital, an SPCA Wake veterinary partner, where he lived and received care for the next month. In spite of his health issues, Ernest remained a sweet and happy dog who never met a person or animal that he didn’t like. Ernest entered my home in May 2012 as part of SPCA Wake’s foster care program for additional care. Fortunately, he never left.

Over the last 18 months, Ernest has spread joy in countless ways. He kept me and my dog Thomas’s spirits high as Thomas battled lymphoma. He began to work alongside me in my role as the Humane Educator at the SPCA of Wake County, serving as my co-teacher and ambassador for animal shelters and shelter animals. He serves as an unofficial therapy dog to clients at The Healing Place of Wake County, a homeless shelter for people seeking recovery from alcohol and other drug problems.

And, Ernest has become an advocate for other puppy mill dogs in North Carolina. When Ann McCrory, the First Lady of North Carolina, spoke out at a press conference in support of legislation to regulate commercial dog breeders, Ernest stood at her side and put a face on the issue.

Ernest’s story exemplifies what can happen when we work together and speak out and act on behalf of animals.


The SPCA of Wake County (Raleigh, NC) is a private, no-kill organization that serves the pets and people of Wake County and surrounding counties. Through the SPCA’s innovative adoption promotions and state-of-the-art adoption center, over 3,000 lives were saved and placed into loving homes last year. The SPCA is an autonomous organization and is not affiliated with or supported by any other SPCAs including the ASPCA. The SPCA is not a government-run organization, and relies on private donations alone. Please visit for more information

Ernest after adoption
Ernest after adoption