MOUNTAIN CITY, TN-An Ashe County woman charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty by Tennessee law enforcement pleaded not guilty to those charges in court last week.
Caroline Jessie Miller, 23, was charged on Nov. 15, by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department with nine counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and six counts of cruelty to animals after deputies said they found starving dogs, along with the dead animals and their remains in a Mountain City home.
Miller pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Johnson County courtroom on Dec. 16, and the judge appointed her a public defender. The judge also barred her from possessing, or being in control of, any dogs or cats until her case is settled.
“House of horrors”
JCSD Chief Deputy Joe Woodard said earlier this month Miller had listed addresses on Fall Branch Road in Mountain City, TN, and another in Miller’s Creek.
In a Dec. 2, phone call Miller confirmed she is currently living in West Jefferson, and also said she had rented space from BJ Pim, the owner of Happy Tails Pet Supply and Happy Tails Rescue of West Jefferson, to use in Miller’s West Jefferson pet grooming business, Barking at the Moon Grooming, from June to November of this year.
But Miller had also rented a home on Fall Branch Road in Mountain City, TN, according to JCSD Chief Deputy Joe Woodard.
It was that home that Johnson County authorities were called to investigate, according to court documents. Tommy Lipford, of Friends of Johnson County Dogs Rescue, was among the first people called to the scene.
“It was just a house of horrors,” Lipford said. “By far the worst place I’d ever been inside.”
According to a Session Court Affidavit filed on Nov. 15, 2015, by JCSD Deputy Patrick McGuinn, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to a call on Fall Branch Road, after a neighbor had reported “smelling something dead and thought it might be coming from his neighbor’s house.”
Upon investigating, deputies said they found numerous living dogs tied to, or inside of, the house in addition to dead animals inside and outside the home.
“What we found was a real mess and I’ve been doing this for a lot of years,” Lipford said. “There was no electricity and we’re checking everything out by flashlight and you’re just hoping you won’t step on something you shouldn’t.”
Mountain City Animal Control was dispatched to the scene, and five living dogs found at the property were given to Lipford’s local animal rescue group while another was taken by animal control officer Garry Phillips.
Lipford said most of the dogs recovered at the scene are doing better than expected.
“They were pretty food aggressive when we first got them,” Lipford said. “Just in really bad shape with their backbone showing and just really pitiful. Four are doing really well while the fifth, a dog that was found in the home’s bathroom, is doing pretty good. That was the dog in the worst shape, in my opinion, but she’s coming around.”
According to JCSO records, Miller was charged on Nov. 15, and posted her $52,000 bond the same day. Her next scheduled court appearance is Feb. 10, 2016.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or on Twitter @AdamROrr.