One of the largest rescues of companion animals in the history of the ASPCA is being carried out in North Carolina, where 600 or more dogs, cats, horses and other animals have been seized from a no-kill shelter.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

About 300 dogs and puppies were already in a new temporary shelter Friday where 10 vets and 39 volunteers and staffers with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were caring for them. The rest were on their way. Some had untreated injuries and illnesses, and investigators found dozens of carcasses on the 122-acre site, said Tim Rickey, ASPCA vice president of field investigations and response department.

Once the animals were moved and placed in clean kennels with shavings and raised beds, many of the animals seemed much happier, ASPCA shelter director Ehren Melius said.

"They were ecstatic," he said. "Our goal is to make each day better for them than the day before."

The animals had been held at The Haven-Friends for Life, a private shelter in Raeford, managed by Stephen Joseph and Linden Spear, who appeared in court Thursday on animal cruelty charges. Their attorney didn't return a message left by The Associated Press.

A friend says the couple has performed a tremendous service over the years. But an inspection by the state Agriculture Department in September found many deficiencies, including inadequate water and medical care. Earlier this week, the director of the department's animal welfare section declined to give the Haven a license and threatened civil penalties.

Four of the rescued dogs were being treated for respiratory illnesses in a sick room, including a puppy that slept in a tiny ball at the back of her kennel. Some were taken to specialists for treatment of injuries, such as a broken leg, or illnesses, ASPCA officials said.

The majority were in the ASPCA's warehouses located about an hour southwest of Raleigh, grouped in pods that attempted to follow how they were grouped at the Haven. Rickey said the number of rescued animals could be as high as 650 when the operation is completed. That's the second-largest companion animal rescue in the history of the ASPCA, which saved 700 cats in Florida in 2012. The organization also once rescued 4,000 roosters in a cockfighting raid.

One pure white dog sat on a bed at the edge of his kennel, legs crossed in genteel manner. At the end of a warehouse near a sliding door, a light-colored pit bull mix excitedly jumped almost to the top of her kennel. Another, suffering from kidney failure, had to be euthanized.

The ASPCA allowed the AP to visit the animals on the condition that their exact location not be reported, to avoid security concerns for the staff and the animals, which need at least a month of care before any are ready to be adopted, spokeswoman Natasha Whitling said.

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