PUPPY MILL AFTERMATH
Victories, Little by Little, Mark Rescued Dogs' New Start
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Barbara Grewe was in her kitchen, getting the cranberry salad ready for Thanksgiving, when she looked down and saw her rescued pup, Gerti, wagging her tail.
It was a small victory, for sure. But since the Rockville resident adopted the little, timid Shih Tzu from the Montgomery County Humane Society last week, she has measured her pet's new life in small gains.
Gerti was one of dozens of dogs taken to local animal shelters this month after Virginia officials raided a large-scale puppy mill in southwestern Virginia, one of the largest such illegal operations ever found in the state.
The puppy mill case drew national headlines and inspired rescue efforts from animal welfare agencies along the East Coast, including several in the Washington area. Ultimately, workers and volunteers from several area agencies -- in Northern Virginia, Montgomery County and the District -- brought back about 160 dogs from tiny Hillsville, Va., to find homes for them.
The agencies have been flooded with calls from families interested in adopting. But the animal groups have told prospective pet owners that taking on a dog rescued from a puppy mill can be a challenge. Most aren't housebroken, and it can take months, even years, to train them.
The dogs aren't used to people or even to running and playing on solid ground, experts say. Many have health problems; some arrived filthy and malnourished, with ear and eye infections and parasites. One dog taken to Loudoun County died of a pregnancy-related infection picked up at the mill, said a spokesperson for the county's Department of Animal Care and Control.
"These are special-needs dogs that are going to require a lot of rehabilitation work," said Ashley Owen, director of integrated communications for the Montgomery Humane Society. "We've had a lot of interested people call and come in to look at them, but not all of them are fully aware of what it's going to take in order to rehab these dogs. It's a huge project."
Animal agencies are asking adopters to take training courses and are handing out fact sheets that explain some of the dogs' behavior, such as cowering or fear of being in open spaces. Many of the 16 dogs that were taken to Fairfax County have been placed in temporary foster care to get them acclimated to human contact, although a few of the adults will begin to be available for adoption in the coming week.
Scotlund Haisley, executive director of the Washington Animal Rescue League, said that many of the 105 dogs the league rescued are adapting well and have been claimed.
"They are turning around far quicker than we ever imagined," Haisley said. "It's really surprised me. . . . When these dogs came in two weeks ago, a good percentage were shaking and fearful. It was hard to get them out of the van. Now a large percentage of them are initiating contact, which is a huge feat."
Grewe, 67, a retired special education teacher, said she was moved to adopt Gerti after seeing news reports of the puppy mill operation, which officials think involved almost 1,000 dogs kept in hundreds of wire cages on rural property in Carroll County, near the North Carolina border.
"Just the conditions they had to live in, those rabbit hutches out in the cold. . . . Dogs shouldn't be out in the wintertime," Grewe said. "I felt like I could give her a good home."
Tipped off by undercover activists from the Humane Society of the United States, Carroll County officials this month raided the property owned by a dog breeder named Junior Horton and seized almost 1,000 dogs that county officials said Horton had been keeping illegally. He had a local license for a kennel for 500 animals but lacked a U.S. Department of Agriculture license that would have allowed him to sell dogs to pet stores, officials said.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe said last week that no criminal charges had been filed.
Germantown resident Scott Bearden, 44, said he expects it could be months before his newly adopted Boston terrier recovers. She's still shy and her ears never perk up the way a Boston terrier's normally would, he said.
"We're realizing it's going to take an exorbitant amount of time," Bearden said. "When we go down to her she cowers away. . . . It shows she was not treated with a whole lot of love."